The 20-year-old Anglophone who developed an AI Assistant to help students affected by war & school closures
Mbah Javis was in his final year of high school in Batibo in Momo Division in the Northwest Region in 2016 when war broke out in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions, the Northwest and Southwest.
The war shattered lives, businesses, and institutions; his school was no exception.
Mbah, who was one year away from writing the Cameroon General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level, had to stay home for two years due to battles between the Cameroon military and separatist fighters.
“There were no signs of classes resuming in Batibo, so I moved to Bamenda, the Northwest regional capital, which was relatively calm. I enrolled in Government Bilingual High School Ntamulung, where I obtained my GCE O’Level and GCE Advanced Level,” Mbah explained.
The 20-year-old was later admitted to study computer science at the University of Buea in the Southwest and, while there, started looking for ways to solve the problem he had encountered in 2016.
The outcome was Dimoly, an AI assistance study app.
“My motivation to build Dimoly came from my experience. I couldn’t go to school every day due to insecurities. At the moment, the situation is not any better, and a lot of students are unable to go to school and attend classes, so I was prompted to build something that students can use from anywhere at any time to study and prepare for exams,” said Mbah.
The startup’s name comes from two different words: didactic and moly. Didactic means designed or intended to teach people easily, and moly is a magical herb in Greek mythology). Mbah put the two together to create his startup’s name, Dimoly.
“This means the app is designed to teach people in a way that will make them understand things like magic,” said Mbah.
According to Mbah, Dimoly can provide accurate answers if the user asks a question with enough information, including the specific subject or topic the question are coming from.
“So basically, the more information the user provides, the clearer the answer the AI assistant gives,” he said.
At fourteen, Mbah began teaching himself computer programming in C++. Six years later, he has worked for several companies in Cameroon and abroad as a software engineer, building software products mainly for mobile and the web, with some having artificial intelligence functions.
In 2019/2020, Mbah was a finalist at Africa’s annual Google Code, a programming contest. In 2022, he was also among the winners of the Cameroon ICT Innovation Week challenge, organised by Cameroon’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
It took him four months to build Dimoly.
Since the war is ongoing, the Cameroon government often groups students from schools with unstable security into accommodation centres where security is guaranteed during national exams.
This means that even if a child cannot attend classes with Dimoly, they can still prepare.
“After downloading the app from the Google Play Store, a student needs an email account to complete their registration before using it,” said Mbah.
“Currently, the app has over 6300 registered users. The feedback from them has been great. They say they enjoy using it a lot,” added Mbah.
Keming Thanks Njoko is a secondary teacher in the Northwest, one of Cameroon’s embattled regions. In 2022, he came across Dimoly and was thrilled about the app’s features.
“You know, not everybody is perfect. A student may ask a tricky question when I am teaching, which requires me to do some sensitive thinking. I will give room for other students to answer while I consult Dimoly for an answer.
It has made my teaching so flexible that when a student asks a question, even if I can’t explain instantly, I know I will go to Dimoly, and I will have something to reply to the student and not ask the student to take it as an assignment as some teachers always do,” said Keming.
Aside from using the app to help his students comprehend subjects easily, Keming has since been going to other schools to promote and encourage the use of the app to improve learning.
“When I found the app, I saw something that I had never seen in others. I was so amazed by it, and the thing that caught my attention was the artificial intelligence of the application. When you search for something there, it is highly specific to your level of education, and the response is automatic,” he said.
According to him, his students have also greatly benefited from using Dimoly. He said the app would easily bail them out when they encountered a challenge in class.
Njuabe Favour is one of the users preparing to write the country’s GCE Advanced Level examinations next year.
The 15-year-old said Dimoly provides her with past GCE questions, which she uses to answer and prepare for exams in school.
“What I like most about the app is that it can answer all school-related questions and best simplifies the answers to my question so that I can understand better. The AI assistant is like a home teacher to me,” she said. “I have been using this app for the past three months or so, and it has been of great help to me.”
Dimoly was also able to help her create a study schedule and study flashcards.
Mbah said he was happy to see that Dimoly was already solving real learning problems among Cameroonian students, especially those in conflict-affected areas.
“With Dimoly, learning is much easier,” he said.
Culled from Bellanaija