- 91.3% of the world’s learning population was impacted by global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic
- 1.5 billion students were not in school, a situation that largely impacted developing nations, a lot of which are in Africa
- In sub-Saharan Africa, some 600 million people (almost two-thirds of the region’s population) do not have regular electricity
The global coronavirus pandemic saw a huge shift in the way students access learning tools as the majority of schools had to adapt to the learning from home education model.
Due to the pandemic, the topic of innovation in education has never been more crucial.
While most developed countries moved their classes online with ease, many developing countries have had a hard time adapting to the home-school model due to a lack of infrastructure and the high cost of data.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 91.3% of the world’s learning population was impacted by global shutdowns brought about by the pandemic.
This means that about 1.5 billion students were not in school, a situation that largely impacted developing nations, a lot of which are in Africa.
The figures are largely exacerbated in Africa where data reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest educational exclusion, with up to 97 million children out of school.
There is however hope for the future as a new era of education has been presented through EdTech (Education Technology), which combines innovative learning techniques with digital technology.
This will largely be driven by the fact that almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25 with an average literacy rate of 70%.
Even as the continent lags behind other parts of the world, it is ripe for disruptions in education.
The need for diversified education systems across Africa has prompted an opportunity for growth for EdTech start-ups across the continent.
Edtech startups vary across different sectors including but not limited to massive open online courses (MOOCs), extended reality learning content, gamified learning, examination preparation, and subject-based instructional content, among others.
An uphill task
Despite the pandemic highlighting the benefits of incorporating EdTech across Africa, there were already existing challenges regarding access to education.
For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, some 600 million people (almost two-thirds of the region’s population) do not have regular electricity.
Internet access has proven to be another thorn in the side of realising Africa’s edtech industry. According to Internet World Stats, Internet penetration in Africa as of the first quarter of 2020 stood at 39.3%, significantly lower than the global average of 58.8%.
This means that about 800 million people on the continent don’t have access to the internet making it a key challenge for edtech firms.
On the bright side, the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), predicts that 65% of sub-Saharan Africa will own a smartphone by 2025, a number which stood at 50% as of 2020.
This goes to show that efforts to expand electricity and broadband access across the continent need to go hand in hand.
African governments need to ensure close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors in order to make sure rural populations in low-income countries reap the benefits of digital development.
Language may be another key challenge when it comes to the penetration of edtech across the continent. This, like Africa, is estimated to have approximately 2,000 distinct languages.
Currently, the vast majority (80%) of online content is only available in 10 languages.
Additionally, despite Africa having the youngest population globally with a median age of 19.7 years, the youth unemployment rate is over 30%, as per data by the Africa Development Bank.
Given there is a digital skills gap between Africa and the rest of the world, the continent has added incentive to teach children digital skills.
Investment in Africa’s Edtech
Developing and distributing educational content has proven to be a costly exercise.
Around the 60s, a number of African countries combined education and technology using radio and TV to improve training for teachers and provide basic lessons to students.
The era of computer hardware then came 30 years later when both national and international organisations started equipping schools with computers aimed at facilitating digital education.
Currently, with more individuals owning smartphones across the continent, most of these digital education tools are being accessed using mobile phones, tablets and even laptops.
The onboarding process for many start-up Edtech companies has proven challenging due to the lack of proper funding.
This is as the majority of Edtech start-ups in Africa rely on mobile network providers, who take a big chunk of the purchase amount.
Data by GSV Ventures shows that as of August 2021, Africa’s edtech industry had attracted investment worth US$20 million since 2019.
While this may seem like a sizeable amount of investment, it is a small fraction compared to investments in edtech globally, which reached $18.6 billion in 2019 alone.
Edtech firms making strides in Africa
Over the years, a number of Edtech firms have sprung up across all corners of the continent, promising to unlock Africa’s potential through leveraging educational technologies.
One such start-up is Eneza Education, with a presence in Kenya, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Eneza delivers tailored educational content either online, via applications, or on basic feature phones.
The start-up provides students with mobile access to quizzes connected to a national curriculum.
Once the assessment is completed via text, students receive feedback and mini-lessons targeting areas where they need support.
Kio Kit and SupaBRCK have partnered to provide the Kio Kit across East Africa. The Kit is a handy box packed with various digital education tools. Mainly designed for schools in low-income communities in emerging markets, the kit comes with 40 wireless SupaBRCK tablets preloaded with educational content.
The content is divided into the local curriculum, games stimulating critical thinking as well as content focused on becoming a responsible citizen and being aware of the environment.
Kio Kit’s products are affordable and provide consistent internet connection, even in the most remote areas by connecting to BRCK – a Kenyan communications hardware company providing 3G hotspots and WiFi.
Another firm working to boost education technology across the continent is Snapplify, currently present in South Africa and Kenya.
The firm offers e-learning content and e-books in its digital library. It’s Africa’s largest e-book distributor with more than 240,000 titles available for students to read.
It is available in over 1,000 schools across Africa, allowing students to access books directly in their school, rather than having to download them individually.
Ethiopia’s BeBlocky is another Edtech startup on the continent. The firm is a gamified learn-to-code app for children between the ages of 6-13.
The app teaches children the basics of programming and robotics in a fun and interactive way. Users get to program the friendly robot BlockyBot to do different movements and tasks – making it a fun and intuitive way of learning how to code.
On the western side of the continent, we have Nigeria’s Tuteria, an online platform that helps students to connect with qualified tutors in their area.
These tutors help students master different subjects, skills and exam modules that can help them achieve better grades.
Students can also rate their tutors and book lessons upfront, using an online payment system.
The continent is budding with many such start-ups including ScholarX – Nigeria, eLimu – Kenya, Moringa School – Kenya, Yusudi – Kenya, Ubongo – Tanzania, Zedny- Egypt among others.
These African EdTech players are expected to further expand their service offerings as well as their continental coverage, leading to the rise in significantly new and effective companies across Africa.