Education Technology: What Africa Needs

By Jamie Martin, Founder of Injini: “I believe the true opportunity, both for technology to transform lives and societies through better education, and to build EdTech companies of great value, may lie in Africa.”

For a sizeable population, if someone asked the importance of technology in education, they would say – ‘Yes, to a certain extent’. Most would, however, stress on the importance of the conventional form of teaching, as it is undoubtedly one of the most important environments for a child to develop his/her personality. However, with technology being introduced in every walk of life, to the extent that it arguably controls our life instead of the other way around, it was only imminent that technology would proliferate education sector. The only question was, to what extent? Would teachers become dispensable? Would this be able to reach every corner of the globe? Will it have the same impact as the physical environment? Notwithstanding parent concerns, the field of educational technology (EdTech) has proven to be a success, and to a good extent.

Vast Untapped Potential

The developed and fast-growing economies around the globe have been quick to jump on the bandwagon; however, for many countries, this space is still a wishful thinking, and reaching there becomes an arduous task. In this context, let’s see how the African economies have fared. There is no doubt that even though the region is developing, a lot needs to be done in this sector. First, some hard facts. The literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, as per UNESCO, was 65% in 2017, which translates to around 1/3rd of the people above 15 years of age being unable to read and write. As such, introduction of technology in education can be expected to bring hope and opportunities for the growth of a number of backward economies.

Experts have come to believe that the end-goal is there for all the stakeholders to see, but it is at the fundamental levels that the region is lacking, namely, a readiness among teachers to embrace this technology, along with the lack of a technical know-how and the absence of a strong financial structure in this regards. However, there is a silver lining in this scenario, with the continent being the youngest globally, as 3 out of 5 people were under 25 years of age as of 2017, which should encourage investors and entrepreneurs to provide quality education and training to the next generation. Also, with EdTech being available for almost every conceivable course, the opportunities to learn are limitless for kids and teenagers, which would enable them to fit like a glove in any profession.

The Government Has A Huge Role To Play

Governments are expected to play a big role in this initiative, as it will be through their support and encouragement that start-ups can be emboldened to develop and offer their services to the learning population. Some of the shining initiatives in EdTech to have come out of the continent in recent times include Eneza Education, which is available in Ghana, Kenya and Ivory Coast. The educational content offered by them is consumed by more than 800,000 users through the online mode, applications or even basic feature phones, while students with access to mobiles can take part in quizzes that are connected to the national curriculum. Similar notable developments include Kio Kit and SupaBRCK in East Africa, Ubongo (Tanzania), M-Shule (Kenya), Snapplify (South Africa and Kenya) and ScholarX (Nigeria). However, many of these ventures are available in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, which may create disparities in the educational level and reach across the continent if they do not expand their scope to other African countries. Providing support to entrepreneurs through some way will definitely help in bringing up the EdTech environment in the region.

COVID-19 – The Great Enabler?

The current coronavirus pandemic that is being witnessed all over the globe has made things very interesting for the educational technology sector. For one, the pandemic has caused a total shutdown of every education institution around the globe, from primary schools to major universities. More than 1.5 billion students in 188 countries have been affected in this scenario, with even countries that have passed the worst of the crisis experimenting with a staggered reopening of schools and colleges. This has increased the importance and scope of the EdTech sector by leaps and bounds, with students learning through virtual means. Smart education and learning has gained a strong foothold, with virtual classrooms having replaced physical ones, with assignments and tests being conducted online. How has Africa responded to the pandemic with respect to education? Some of the countries that are relatively in a better shape technologically, such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, have stabilized themselves in this regard.

The EdTech companies have seen this as a growth opportunity, not in terms of profit, but in expanding their user base and making learning available at lower prices than normal to students. Nigeria-based uLesson is currently delivering its services through a streaming platform that has slashed its prices considerably for the coming 5 months. Another example is SimbiBot, which has an audience of more than 50,000. The company offers learning material in 14 different subject areas, and has made lesson notes freely available to children. They have also provided a WhatsApp channel, where students or learners can connect with their tutors to receive help or guidance.

Some Final Thoughts…

In conclusion, the advent of COVID-19 pandemic may definitely help in accelerating growth of the EdTech industry in South African economies, but it needs to be ensured that this access is made to every last village, every last school and every last child. As said before, government support is the most needed in order to propel the development, with countries such as Kenya, Libya and South Africa seeing an active participation of their ministries in this regard. One thing is for certain, Africa needs to realize the importance and power of technology in educating young minds in the coming months and years, or risk falling further away on the global stage.

About Grand View Research

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