One of Africa’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela, once said that education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world. As an educator myself, I’m inclined to agree with this wise saying.
Education is an indisputable agent of societal change and development. It cuts across every aspect of human endeavour, transcending a formal classroom setting.
Since we live in a world that has gone digital, it becomes a foregone conclusion that technology will affect different facets of our daily lives. As we would expect, advances in technology have revolutionised educational systems, giving it a major facelift in the way teachers accomplish their teaching activities.
Although the incorporation of technology into the educational sector has been existing for a while, it has witnessed significant uptake throughout the world especially in the last few years. A major catalyst that strengthened the presence of educational technology up until now is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the outbreak, edtech was mainly adopted by premium institutions that cater to the rich as well as a few other relatively tech-savvy individuals. During the COVID-19 times, it saw a sharp rise, emerging as a major vehicle for education delivery.
It does not supplant the conventional method of teaching with teachers and students in a classroom; what it uses is the capabilities of digital services to enable new processes and strategies.
Edtech seeks to ultimately complement overall teaching and learning goals. For one, it makes it easier for teachers to create instructional materials to enable new ways for people to learn and work together.
In theory, Edtech also increases access to low-cost teaching resources, brings added value compared to traditional teaching, and serves as a complementary solution for teacher training.
Unlike the traditional teaching model of education that prioritises theoretical knowledge over digital skills acquisition, edtech allows students to develop relevant and practical skills that can prepare them for the future of work.
As such, we cannot deny the role of edtech in creating more solutions to solve problems like poverty, illiteracy, poor sanitation and malnutrition. Why is this urgent? Consider the following:
Even in this 21st century, throughout sub-Saharan Africa, over five million children have left basic education due to poverty, unrest and civil turmoil. According to Statista, in 2020, over 70 per cent of the poorest children living in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Guinea do not attend school.
These shocking statistics have put sub-Saharan Africa in an unenviable position as the region with the highest illiteracy rate in the world. This makes one wonder about the future of the continent if its ‘future leaders’ are roving the streets uneducated.
Responding to this growing problem, numerous actors across the regions – humanitarian organisations, the private sector, and governments – have embarked on a number of technology-based educational programmes to tackle issues of access and equity.
Granted, the ongoing edtech revolution in Africa is nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, if we take the time to brush off the glamour, we’re left with a dull reality that the accessibility gap in education between the haves and the have-nots still remains.
Consider this: The majority of African e-learning platforms are for-profit enterprises, either VC-funded or working towards fundraising. Because of this, most of their products are beyond the means of the communities in dire need.
Commendably, innovative startups continue to churn out education apps that promote better, easier, and faster ways of learning. However, they need to approach the challenges they’re trying to solve from a holistic angle by designing products with low-income parents and students in mind.
Since users of e-learning platforms need access to mobile phones and sometimes the internet, what then happens to children from families living in extreme poverty where mobile phone ownership, electricity, and the internet are all considered to be luxuries?
Lacking access to education, these underserved ones mature without many options for their future, unable to break the vicious cycle of poverty.
Research by GSMA Intelligence predicts that 66 per cent of SSA will have a smartphone by 2025. That’s still four years away; hence, alternatives should be provided to households and communities that cannot access the benefits of expanding mobile networks and devices.
As of 2018, the Africa e-learning market was valued at $792m, exhibiting a CAGR of about 14 per cent between 2011 and 2018. The market for e-learning is projected to reach a value of $1.81bn by 2024. Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia rank high on the list of countries where e-learning is gaining prominence in Africa.
So, what does this mean for the players in the sector? It means that though the future of e-learning in SSA is not entirely smooth, market conditions are ripe, promising growth for all stakeholders – students, entrepreneurs, investors, and governments, and other humanitarian organisations.
For social entrepreneurs, they need to reassess their commitment, which should be more about building education technology that can really achieve impact.
Governments should demonstrate their willingness to support e-learning initiatives as tools to improve delivery.
For example, the high cost of internet connectivity might prevent students in poor communities to participate in e-learning. In such cases, governments can collaborate with local internet service providers and telcos to reduce charges.
As part of my contribution to the further growth of not just edtech but the education ecosystem in general, on the August 27, 2021, I will be convening a virtual education stakeholders’ forum that will bring stakeholders across Africa together to brainstorm, collaborate and, hopefully, co-create solutions that are scalable and relevant to our peculiarities. This will herald the launch of edbuild.africa, an online media that will be focused on supporting the edtech industry.
If we want to level the education playing field, it will take a combination of socially-conscious individuals, groups, and organisations to ensure that access to quality education and costs are improved. After all, access to basic education is still a fundamental human right.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch