EdTech: A Huge Opportunity for Expansion of Educational Institutions in Africa

Technology will shape schooling in Africa in the future. The educational systems on the continent are under pressure. Although it is a worldwide issue, the strain is most severe in Africa, a continent that is home to over 200 educational technology (EdTech) businesses that use a variety of strategies to close the gap in educational quality.

Technology will shape schooling in Africa in the future. The educational systems on the continent are under pressure. Although it is a worldwide issue, the strain is most severe in Africa, a continent that is home to over 200 educational technology (EdTech) businesses that use a variety of strategies to close the gap in educational quality. A workforce that is educated and knowledgeable will aid in accelerating the economic progress of Africa. Education technology presents a significant opportunity for African institutions to grow.

Education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty. Using technology to enhance learning is an incredibly exciting idea, and as an area of education, it is growing fast. Blended learning, mobile learning, connectivism, and other increasingly popular ideas all owe their existence to technology. Educational Technology, also known as EduTech or EdTech, is the concept of teaching and learning through the efficient medium of technology.

Tablets and laptops are examples of modern technologies that supplement the traditional use of physical books for studying. Because online learning platforms and LMS are readily available, the majority of residents of underprivileged places may access high-quality education. Modernized automated school management systems and other management platforms have made educational administrators’ jobs easier.

Issues with Education in Africa

Better academic standards can be adopted to develop a literate nation as a result of the educational expansion in African nations. While many African nations are still in the development stage, several have made notable strides in the area of education.

The University of Al-Quaraouiyine has roots stretching back to 859 AD. Located in Fez, Morocco, it was founded as a mosque by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 AD and served as an educational centre of the madrasa tradition until the mid-1900s. Just as in Europe, the oldest universities in Africa typically started out as institutions for religious studies and later branched out to encompass an increasing number of fields. Al-Quaraouiyine was one of the leading spiritual and educational centres of the Muslim Golden Age but was not transformed from a madrasa to a Modern Age European-style university until 1963.

Modern education in Africa has always been shaped by external forces, if not directly imposed by them. Even after decolonization, African youths continued to learn in systems that followed foreign Euro-American paradigms—a trend that Western-dominated globalisation helped perpetuate. The languages of instruction in most African countries, for instance, remain mostly those of global commerce and former colonial powers (English and French), whereas African languages, of which there are more than 2,000, are generally considered an impediment to economic progress. Instead of developing their own learning models, African nations remain dependent on the outside world to provide better education to their youth.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, paying for school was a challenge for many families in low- and middle-income countries, who spend a greater proportion of their household income on children’s education than families in high-income countries.

By 2050, 1 in 2 Africans will be under 25 years of age. The continent will be home to 1 billion children and adolescents aged 0–18. With the right opportunities, this young and fast-growing population can be a powerful source of growth and progress in Africa and the world.

In sub-Saharan Africa, living in a rural area remains an additional barrier to access to education: it is more difficult to recruit and retain teachers there, logistical issues make it difficult to build and maintain schools, living conditions are more precarious; and the pressure for children to do domestic or agricultural work is very strong.

Ten million children drop out of primary school every year in sub-Saharan Africa. Even those fortunate enough to complete primary school often leave with literacy and numeracy skills far below expected levels.

Huge numbers of young people work in sectors as diverse as cotton picking, mining and street selling in Burkina Faso, where 44% live below the poverty line.

Similarly, there is a major shortage of trained and motivated teachers. It is estimated that to ensure that every child has access to quality education by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit 350,000 new teachers every year. It seems increasingly unlikely that this will happen.

High data prices remain an obstacle for African internet users. Consumers on the continent are paying some of the highest rates in the world for internet access as a proportion of their income. Citizens of Chad, DR Congo, and the Central African Republic must all pay more than 20% of their average earnings for 1GB of mobile broadband data. By contrast, the most affordable rates in the continent are in Egypt at 0.5% and Mauritius at 0.59%, according to the A4AI data report.

The fast expansion of Internet connectivity and access has made it possible for a global digital economy to emerge. However, both wealthy and developing nations suffer from significant inequities as a result of a lack of digital literacy.

The skills gap is a complicated problem that will require the cooperation of stakeholders from business, government, and education. Every organization will survive the global pandemic stronger and prosper in the technology world that follows if it invests in its people and creates sustainable, long-term talent pipelines.

The answer has always been that both the students and the creators of knowledge and skills need to work together. As long as institutions and tutors follow the theoretical basis of each course of study, and have professionals from the field once in a while for the purpose of reinforcing the basis practically, there should not be a skills gap among the graduates. The skills gap can only exist when graduates cannot convince employers how their theoretical understanding of various concepts and constructs can solve existing and future problems in the workplace. This has been dubbed by several professionals and scholars as the awareness gap. In reality, most African graduates have an awareness gap, not a skills gap. However, one cannot have completely blind views on the existence of a skills gap when new developments are changing the face of competition and how businesses navigate uncertain terrains across Africa.

The developments of the past decades indicate that, globally, the higher education sector has moved from a state of decline and disrepair to a state of revival and revitalization. The 1980s was a period of decline in higher education when student enrolment fell, even in developed countries, and developing countries, especially in Africa, experienced the erosion of facilities and capacities. Innovation and infrastructure will close the technology gap and digital divide in Africa. Finding the right people can be more essential than knowing basic scientific knowledge for the success of innovation.

A low ranking in the human capital index—which measures the mobilisation of the economic potential of citizens—has implications for the region’s capability to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Although West African countries have made improvements in school enrolment over the last two decades, retention rates remain low, with outcomes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics especially poor. Yet demand for these skills is increasing and will define the future of work in view of the unfolding technological revolution.

African Market for Educational Technology

With one of the greatest youth populations and one of the fastest expanding economies in the world, Africa is also seen as the centre of the new economy, which includes startups, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. The learning system on the African continent is already being disrupted by the latest EdTech innovation.

The first initiatives to introduce technologies into education were carried out by States directly, as they were at the time embarking on wide-ranging education reforms. During that period – from decolonization through to the 1980s – the dominant paradigm in education, common to African states and international organizations, was that of the interventionist state. Against that background, major large-scale programmes were developed, which were to some extent successful.

With over 200 million young people, Africa is undoubtedly the continent that needs effective, scaled solutions for education, from early childhood to adult upskilling, the most. Thousands of African EdTech entrepreneurs are working in every area of the sector to support teachers, schools, students, and parents with increased access to education and impact from learning, despite significant infrastructure and financial obstacles.

The UNCTAD’s World Investment Report, 2022 indicated that the foreign direct investment inflow into Africa grew to $83 billion, which was an increase of 1.1% compared to 2020, reflecting the massive potential of Africa’s startup ecosystem. This has prompted the proliferation of EdTech startups to meet this explosive demand. Investments in EdTechs stood at US$18.6 billion in 2019 and it is projected to reach US$350 billion by 2025. More than 200 EdTech startups are dispersed around Africa utilizing a variety of approaches to close the quality education gap, with over $1 billion invested in the field to date.

Mobile technology can be used in Africa for educational purposes. An increasing number of initiatives—some large-scale, some small—are using mobile technologies to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. Mobile phones are streamlining education administration and improving communication between schools, teachers, and parents. Mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing educational approaches, is supporting or extending education in ways not possible before.

Shipments of mobile phones to South Africa and Nigeria, the continent’s biggest markets, rose 2% and 5.2% year over year. The world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, Amazon Web Services(AWS),) has been helping EdTechs around the world, including Africa; to innovate faster technology solutions that support students and educators every day, lowering costs and offering over 200 fully-featured services from data globally.

Despite the innovation growth in the EdTech ecosystem, Africa still has some serious impediments to widespread technology adoption: internet coverage is low (at 27% in SSA), hardware and software costs are high (up to 30% of GDP per capita is spent on a smartphone). Due to failing public school systems, households contribute up to 46% of total education spending on their children—this has resulted in 20–45% of the K-12 population enrolled in private schools. Amidst this, African governments reportedly spend 5% of their GDPs on education, more than any other region in the world.

Online education is currently the only way for Africa to expand its college-educated population. While statistics predict that by 2050, 2.4 billion people will live in Africa.  The only way to reach all of those people? Online learning.

As at 2017, 8 percent of sub-Saharan Africa is enrolled in higher education.  The goal is to increase higher education participation to 50 percent by 2063.  How will that happen? Online education

Ope Bukola, co-founder and CEO of the online university Kibo School, which provides affordable degrees to African students, said, “The online learning industry is globally competitive. I don’t see our competition as just in Africa, and I would say it is primarily global companies serving Africa. Honestly, our biggest competitors in Africa are legacy, brick-and-mortar institutions. Many of these institutions are plagued by low supply and low quality, and they produce grads who struggle to find jobs. But they are still the choice that many students and families gravitate towards. In order to scale our work, we will have to convince those stakeholders that going online can be a viable and better option to accomplish one’s mission.

If only our education system was up to the task, she continued, “There are so many young people getting into the technology workforce, and I really think the continent could be the place for young technologists.”

The market surge is not unexpected in a continent where education is fervently seen as the key to prosperity, a sort of lottery ticket to a better life.

EdTech: The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Gift to African Education

A majority of nations declared the temporary shutdown of schools in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the world, affecting more than 91% of children. Almost 1.6 billion children and youths will not have attended school by April 2020. And the over 369 million children who depend on school lunches had to look elsewhere for their daily sustenance.

After the historic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools are back open worldwide, but education is still in recovery, assessing the damage done and lessons learned. Some gains already made towards the goals of the 2030 Education Agenda were lost. High levels of inequality have helped to create the global fragility that is being exposed and exploited by COVID-19.

The impact of COVID-19 on work and family life notes that lockdowns have left many parents struggling to balance childcare and paid employment, with a disproportionate burden placed on women, who, on average, spend more than three times longer on care and housework than men. The closures have also exposed a deeper crisis for families of young children, especially in low and middle-income countries, many of whom were already unable to access social protection services. Childcare is essential in providing children with integrated services, affection, protection, stimulation, and nutrition and, at the same time, enabling them to develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

The COVID-19 crisis has affected the digital gap as it pertains to teaching and learning in Africa in several ways. Schools at different levels of education have gone online. Primary school pupils are given assignments online with no prior teaching on etiquette and/or how to behave in online spaces. Internet penetration in Africa is 39.3%, then.

The potential for technology to close the gap between the need to educate more people and to generate funding was demonstrated during the pandemic. When school campuses closed due to safety concerns, EdTech companies facilitated the global pivot to virtual classes by providing video conferencing platforms and learning solutions.

Perhaps most importantly, resistance to online learning on the part of both students and faculty was effectively eliminated, creating fertile ground to continue exploring alternatives to in-person learning and assessment. The ability to scale learners at lower costs has the potential to lower barriers, both geographic and financial.

Cheap mobile phones have made it easier for students and working people to enrol in online education since COVID-19. Unquestionably, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in highlighting the enormous digital inequality in Africa’s educational system. In order to close the gap and guarantee that kids’ education is not jeopardized, this has simultaneously sparked a disruption revolution characterised by the invention of technology-driven solutions.

Adoption of EdTech products in Africa: Persona and Situation

The growth of EdTech does not leave institutions of higher education on the back burner. If anything, it means that universities and colleges in Africa can employ EdTech as a tool to make higher education more accessible to millions of Africans. Studies show that only a meagre 8% of African students are enrolled in higher institutions.

African universities can use their rich history of providing higher education learning in tandem with the flexibility and affordability that EdTech offers to boost higher education enrolment. As broadband penetration improves and smartphone proliferation continues on the continent, more and more Africans will be able to gain access to higher education with the marriage of higher education and EdTech.

An unprecedented milestone was accomplished by MSBM last year when it expanded to become the largest EdTech platform in Africa, bringing in over 450,000 students in just one year. Another EdTech startup, eLearn Africa, has designed a learning management system capable of giving university students access to free online courses. The development comes in partnership with the Association of African Universities (AAU).

Africa’s EdTech Industry Faces Challenges

According to GSMA Intelligence, infrastructure problems are the main hindrance to the spread of EdTech in Africa. There is still much work to be done in Africa to attain widespread mobile internet access, and increasing internet infrastructure will be essential to assuring greater uptake of technology products. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile and internet connectivity is still poor, with 26% as of 2019, up from 13% in 2014.

Africa has some of the highest hardware and data prices in the world, which is comparable to inadequate coverage. The cheapest internet-connected mobile device in 2019 contributed 30% of the monthly GDP per person (equivalent to the share Americans pay on rent every month).  In addition, 1GB of internet usage costs 4.2% of the monthly GDP per person. To grasp the ratio, picture paying $226 a month for 1GB of internet if you reside in the US. (For the record, 1GB of internet will allow you to watch one movie on Netflix). Fortunately, this expense has decreased from 8% in 2015 for SSA recipients.

Infrastructure will undoubtedly play a significant role in the future development of technology in Africa. A healthy tech market requires increasing access and affordability.

An expert at the 15th international conference on ICT in education, training, and skills development in Africa (eLA 2022) claims that technology developers from outside Africa have often simply translated their digital learning content to Swahili and used black icons to reflect the African App user. With their yearning for scale, this approach has clearly ignored the diversity, multilingualism, and multicultural nature of Africa. Yes, impact needs scale, but scaling up might kill the contextual fit if diversity isn’t factored in.

Like any other continent, Africa and its diversity are open to digital education, and the continent has great talent in its teachers, learners, and technology developers who can tailor tools to the African context and their own needs. Technology in itself can generate options — learners and teachers can become creative enough to flip the classroom — learning is not just about listening to lectures but about taking part in activities that can boost learners’ levels of engagement and knowledge retention.

African Educational Technology: A Look Ahead

Forces such as digitalisation and automation, climate change, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, are rapidly changing the nature of work, making secondary-level skills critical to labour market participation.

Secondary education for all young people contributes to economic growth through higher labour productivity. Youth with relevant skills are better able to engage in complex tasks, adapt to new technologies, improve the quality of products and services produced, and advance innovation. This enhanced productivity is particularly important in the informal sector, where the majority of young people will find jobs for the foreseeable future.

Even as many African countries have stepped up their commitment to improving and expanding education opportunities, education has remained chronically underfinanced, with funding levels far below what is needed to achieve education benchmarks. The education sector is undeniably strategic to economic development; therefore, the lack of capital investment will have lasting consequences for security, social stability, community wellbeing, livelihoods, new opportunities in both emerging and developed market economies.

While many were left behind during the pandemic’s era of digital learning, it’s not all doom and gloom: “There have been many institutions that have been able to keep up in the areas where governments and private sectors were willing to invest to ensure that there’s continuity in this space.” The challenges and issues for those who have been left behind have been exposed. There lies an opportunity for improvement and growth across the continent.

Policymakers primarily need to articulate a holistic vision for a blended form of learning by crafting and implementing an ICT for education policy that covers the entire spectrum of learning (pre-primary, primary, secondary,  higher education, distance, on-the-job, and lifelong learning).

How quickly the market will expand, meanwhile, largely depends on how infrastructure problems are resolved: mobile internet access must be made more broadly available, and data must be far less expensive. Additionally, when economies expand, it is critical that the expansion be properly distributed so that people’s desire to pay for tech products also expands accordingly. However, private capital must enter the sector at a faster rate and in greater volume than before. It’s important for African and international venture capital firms to place early investments in African businesspeople working on education-related issues.

To ensure that technology can assist in addressing the global learning crisis, the future of edtech will be an evidence-based future that will focus on what works, why, how, and in what context. The dissemination of evidence is primarily impacted by gaps in our knowledge of the best practical, scalable methods for having a long-term impact on student learning. The prospect for African institutions to expand is unquestionably considerable thanks to education technology.

Writer and researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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