Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Education Technology (EdTech) has taken Africa by storm, rapidly transforming the education landscape through the adoption of digital learning techniques.
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, a bellwether of the growing prominence of online learning. Against the backdrop of escalating population growth in the continent, e-learning is perceived as a rational, cost-effective means to widen educational opportunities.
In a continent where education is zealously believed as the ultimate key to success, a somewhat lottery ticket to a better life; the market boom comes as no surprise. Inarguably, the Covid-19 pandemic has been instrumental in exposing the stark digital divide in Africa’s education sector. Simultaneously, this has instigated a disruption revolution, marked by the innovation of technology-driven solutions, to seal the deficit and ensure that students’ education is not compromised.
Learning institutions are seizing the opportunity presented by the disruption to transform education.
“We need to repair past injustices and orient the digital transformation around inclusion and equity,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay noted, during the 2022 International Day of Education in January.
The UN advocates for massive investments in digital literacy and infrastructure, to create a robust education sector in Africa. In addition, adopting modern technology in learning and teaching can be enhanced, to contribute toward the UN SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063, which advocates for the empowerment of all Africans devoid of any bias through education.
According to Brookings, African governments currently on average spend 5% of GDP on education, which makes for the second-highest in any region, and on average 16% of their national budgets. EdTechs have been serving the critical role of supporting learning institutions, to make the inevitable digital transformation, from the conventional offline learning models. There is a massive demand for advanced technological infrastructure, as well as innovative learning and training solutions.
The E-learning platforms and applications supplied by EdTech startups in Africa have been a godsend to millions of students across the continent. They have succeeded in offering cost-effective solutions to countries that lack adequate education tools and resources, thereby providing accessible global education. EdTech offers an interactive approach that encourages students to acquire digital skills, for future employment in the current digital age. These skills will assist students to participate and be competitive in the global market; therefore, it’s imperative for them to acquire digital proficiency from a young age.
Similarly, mobile broadband technology is swiftly penetrating even remote rural regions, providing internet access.
The educational landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. Learning institutions are facing mounting pressure to prepare students and equip them with the necessary digital skills, to bolster their entry chances in the new digital market. The Future of Jobs Survey 2020 produced by the World Economic Forum, indicates that 85 million jobs may be displaced by machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge but shall require specific digital skills. In reiteration, according to research by McKinsey & Company, 800 million people will be unemployed due to robotics and automation. Therefore, education startups need to adapt their curricula to the new challenges, prioritize practising and keenly focus on employability.
With a key goal of making higher education more accessible and affordable, African universities can use EdTech to rapidly expand their services. Furthermore, EdTech offers the flexibility of remote learning, as long as there is a network connection. It’s the most viable tool to provide equal access to high-quality education among the burgeoning populace, breaking down existential barriers of physical attendance that might be expensive and tedious.
EdTechs putting Africa on the map
Amazon Web Services (AWS), the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform 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.
Some EdTech initiatives in Africa include; Kenya’s Elimu, which is a leading digital educational provider in East Africa; with fun and engaging literacy apps that have garnered numerous positive reviews, due to fast improvements in reading fluency as opposed to the control group. They have been encouraging students to improve their skills both at home and school, combining engaging content as well as proven pedagogies.
Another Kenyan EdTech company gaining traction is Zoezi Education, with a vision to empower the learning community in Kenya, through its flagship products ‘Zoezi Revision and Zoezi Darasani’. The renowned platform offers interactive and auto marked revision questions, for the new CBC curriculum and KCPE past and model papers; reviewed by qualified and experienced teaching personnel across the country. Furthermore, it avails Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) quizzes, composed to meet the CASEL standards.
Snapplify is another award-winning platform that offers a digital library with past exams, e-textbooks and all manner of e-learning content, making it Africa’s largest e-book distributor. Currently, it’s available in more than 1000 schools on the continent and allows students to access books and content at their schools. Nigeria’s Tuteria, is a platform that offers assistance to students to connect with qualified tutors in the area. Boasting a convenient online payment system that allows students to book lessons and rate their tutors, it makes for one highly sought-after solution in the country.
Significance of Digital Literacy in African Education Curricula
How can Africa bridge the digital literacy gap? Addressing barriers to digital inclusion in the continent is key to alleviating unemployment challenges, according to the World Bank. A long-lasting solution is to inculcate digital literacy at all levels of education and respective curricula thereof, to instil these skills from a young age. Therefore, EdTechs should step in and offer solutions to this gaping deficit in the continent.
Microsoft has been instrumental in bridging the digital skills gap in Africa’s educational systems, pertinently with its inclusive Classroom initiative; a platform upon which students and teachers can communicate and collaborate, by harnessing its globally renowned 365 products as crucial educational tools. In the same breath, the government of Kenya has recently approved the coding curriculum to be learnt by primary and secondary school students, equipping young learners with coding skills; making it the first African country to adopt the technique.
The syllabus, which is in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s digital literacy programme launched in 2016; will put students on an equal footing with students in developed countries. Upon receiving approval from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Kodris Africa, an online publishing company that focuses on preparing learners with 21st-century skills, will be offering the syllabus.
Moreover, Huawei recently launched its Leadership, Employability, Advancement and Possibility (LEAP) digital skills development programme, to help advance the ICT skills of more than 100,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa within three years. More than 15,000 students from over 200 universities and colleges in Sub-Saharan Africa, participated in the 2021-2022 Huawei ICT competition.
Among the 48 competing teams, Nigerian and Kenyan teams won first prize in the regional final; whilst teams from Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania claimed the second prize.
The Huawei ICT competition has grown into the biggest competition in Africa, offering a global stage for students to showcase and practice their ICT knowledge and skills. Over the span of five years, 80,000 university students from Africa registered for the competition, and more than 20 teams entered the global finals. To boot, the competition has provided the students with a network of industry trainers, instructors and learning tools to increase their job market competitiveness.
Hurdles encountered by EdTechs in Africa
Common barriers to education in many nations in Africa include accessibility, long distances to schools, political instability, costs, security, health and nutrition, coupled with insufficient education budgets. Albeit fairly nascent, EdTech in Africa has been experiencing myriad challenges, but above them, all is the little to no network coverage; caused by limited internet penetration which only covers 39.8% of Africa, meaning that about 800 million people on the continent don’t have access to the internet.
The lack of internet infrastructure has been a major roadblock to the mushrooming of EdTech in Africa, yet it’s the key to expediting the adoption of tech-education products. In the bargain, limited coverage data and hardware costs in Africa are the highest in the world, posing additional challenges.
The massive digital skills gaps have led to high levels of unemployment in the continent, for instance in 2019, the unemployment rate among African youth stood at 30%. The cost of developing and distributing educational content is high, with many EdTechs relying on mobile network providers, who charge exorbitantly making the onboarding process sluggish, becoming a stumbling block for most startups.
EdTech is central to the creation of inclusive and resilient systems that provide access to quality education, address education shortcomings and narrow the digital divide. Startups might want to adopt edutainment, which is mixing education and entertainment. A report by Market Research Future indicates that the edutainment market size is expected to surpass US$10.11 billion by 2025, recording a compound annual growth rate of 11.61%.
Furthermore, to make e-learning more dynamic, EdTechs should utilize a multi-format approach to their content.
Currently, game-based learning is transforming how students learn, by increasing engagement thereby producing positive learning outcomes. Integrating game-based solutions into learning experiences, is captivating learners and institutions are embracing this new gamification strategy. Laconically, African governments should urgently address the existential issues that thwart the progress of online learning.
However, the future is indeed promising for EdTechs, as the continent proceeds to fully step into the fourth industrial revolution.