The role played by education in addressing some of the challenges faced on the African continent cannot be underplayed. Not only does a good education have the capacity to improve individual livelihoods but also economic progression at a macro level.
The majority of the continent grapples with similar challenges including, poverty, exclusion, wars, HIV/AIDS, poor infrastructure among others. It stands to reason that there is a critical need for investing in Africa’s education to begin to make strides in addressing some of these issues.
While education can be considered a social service and therefore a government-related key result area, there is scope for non-government entities in the education sector.
The Business of Education in Africa.
According to UNESCO, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion in the world. More than 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and close to one-third of children aged 12-14 are out of school.
World Bank statistics also indicate that 87% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are ‘learning poor’ and lack the foundational skills needed for integrating into the global context. Public schooling is generally considered poor quality, which has given room to private sector players within the industry.
The Business of education report found that one -in -five children in Africa are currently schooled within the private sector. The number of privately educated Africans is expected to increase to one-in-four by 2021. The findings of the report projected a need for between $1.5 and $2 billion worth of profitable investment within the private sector education in Africa.
The growth of a vibrant middle class, an increase in rural to urban migration, adaptation to technology are all contributing factors to the huge market potential for profitable ventures in the sphere of education.
Africa has the most youthful population in the world. Statistics say 60% of Africans are below the age of 25. Demand for education will only continue to increase.
Is There An Opportunity To Invest In The Business Of Education In Africa?
There is scope within the education sector for private players to gain in terms of both profit and impact. Education in Africa is an investable arena.
A case in point has been the success of for-profit oriented education entities such as Bridge International Academies. This initiative to provide a low cost- quality education targeted at the lower-income earners was born out of a collaboration between developmental financiers as well as private equity players. It has since grown into a chain of schools operating in many countries in Africa.
Another success story is the emerging market private equity firm Actis which has successfully grown a Pan-African education brand ‘Honoris’.
There is room within the private education sector for investment from pre-primary to higher education. Furthermore, ancillary services such as teacher training, publishing, vocational training, and ed–tech all have significant investment potential.
Understanding The Education Industry In Africa
Reviews of education sector performance in many countries reveal a poor public school offering in Africa. In most countries, public schools are plagued with inadequate funding, poor management, and debilitating infrastructure, which all contribute to poor quality outcomes. Government funding has proved inadequate in coping with the increasing demand for education.
Exacerbating the challenges is the inequality and high levels of poverty, driving hordes of children away from school to pursue economic activities. What’s more, learning outcomes and quality of education differ between locations even within the same country.
Non-government players have taken part in education through setting up schools and higher institutes of learning as well as through donor funding of government schools. International development organizations, faith-based entities, and private companies have a footprint in the teaching and learning space.
Several private players have also come onto the scene with profit-oriented schools attracting mainly expats and the well-off, who have taken advantage of. Over time, there have been a growing number of institutes geared towards the middle class and more recently towards the lower rungs of the pyramid.
Though the specifics differ from country to country, education is offered in Africa from pre-primary to higher education in conjunction with vocational and career targeted learning.
The Association for Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) highlights the sacrificial attitude of parents who are willing to spend a sizable chunk of their earnings towards school-related matters. This speaks to a fertile ground for investments in education in Africa.
Impact Of Covid-19 On Education In Africa.
The advent of the Coronavirus in Africa prompted a swift response by a number of governments to immediately issue lockdowns and curfews. The fear of this unknown disease alarmed many administrations, and only now are many opening up to a return for normalcy. What this means is that many schools are opening up to resume everyday activities.
According to a UN report, closure of schools and other learning spaces, has impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 percent in low and lower to middle-income countries.
For parents and schools with the capacity to do so, learning continued through digital media, through the concept of learn from home, as opposed to work from home. This was not the case however for the majority of students on the continent, especially those in the less affluent and rural areas.
An in-depth look at the African landscape will reveal that only 43% of the population has access to electricity. With an internet penetration of 39.3%, access to digital-based education is at very low levels. This means that a significant portion of learners were unable to access learning through digital means, leaving millions without access to basic universal education.
Some countries employed strategies such as radio broadcast lessons, which have limited scope in terms of teacher-learner interaction which reduces positive learner outcomes. The pandemic led to disruption in education for some learners who have not been learning due to resource challenges.
The glaring inequalities in the access to education were further widened by the COVID -19 induced disruptions.
The silver lining of the COVID- 19 nightmare can be found in the innovative response to education. Many governments implemented learning websites, radio, and TV programs aimed at continuing education outside of the school setting. Some private companies joined in the innovative learning process for example Econet Zimbabwe opened up their Akello learning platforms for free online lessons to exam candidates. Similarly, Strathmore University in Nariobi, Kenya quickly adopted online education as a means to tackle this issue.
A Post COVID Outlook On The Business Of Education In Africa
This new–found adaptation of technology in education has the potential to create a breeding ground for viable “ed–tech“ innovations. For example, the incorporation of blockchain technology in education to create a platform for examining and recording learners’ performance could be an area of forward-thinking which technology companies and investors can position themselves in. Also, embracing technology in the way that educators are trained is imperative in improving the future of education in Africa.
The coronavirus scourge has brought to the fore the need for governments and the private sector to work together to foster improving outcomes in education. The education sector no longer remains a charitable case but is a legitimate investment channel through which emerging market investors can reap long term rewards.
By 2050, Africa’s current population of one billion is projected to have more than doubled to 2.3 billion. With governments struggling to meet the educational needs of their people at present, it can be argued that the increasing population presents a need for larger private sector collaboration in the provision of education in Africa. This highlights the growing market for investment in education. Creating business models around social impact with a profit agenda will benefit investors in Africa’s education sector, while adding value to the brains of African youth!
By Eveylyn Shumba