EdTech in Africa: Opportunity to Cover the Education Gap
May 31, 2022
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by Stephen Kanyi

The pandemic was bad, no doubt, but it had a few silver linings. The growth of EdTech was one of them.

To be fair, EdTech was already well established even before the pandemic. Platforms like Khan Academy and Udemy were already online, providing learning modules for millions of students across the globe. However, the new realities the pandemic imposed on institutions expedited its mass adoption for traditional learning institutions, even at lower levels.

In Africa, millions of students turned to their smartphones and computers to get whatever little access they could to the multitude of resources available online. Most of them today know that they can get virtually anything they want from the internet. From syllabus material to little known facts or even the ability to share their own opinions with millions of people worldwide, the internet has you covered.

The only problem? No one took the time to organize all this information into one cohesive syllabus digestible to students from all grades, especially if they are African. All you had was content designed for students abroad and little if any, for African learners. Syllabuses may be similar across nations but there are differences, sometimes big ones. These differences needed local solutions but little existed at the time.

Only then was it apparent to students, parents and tutors that there were not enough resources online to meet the now rising demand. So much so that virtually everyone was trying to fill this gap. In Kenya, a member of parliament had taken to offer mathematics classes via his Facebook account.

Soon, however, there were more, I would dare say, reputable, online platforms created to meet this demand. The result has been a proliferation of such platforms through the years. Forward to 2022 and the continent has experienced somewhat of an EdTech boom. There are more than 210 EdTech startups in Africa this year, expected to reach about 300 by 2024.

This success is slowly turning heads with more businesses and institutions eager to invest in Africa’s booming EdTech industry. Such attention is growing as more people realize that the boom wasn’t just beholden to the pandemic.

Africa, in my view always had the perfect conditions for an EdTech revolution. This is because of a variety of reasons first of which is, ironically, the dismal state of education across the continent.

State of Education in Africa

As it stands today, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. According to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school. Only 9% of sub-Saharan Africans have tertiary education.

Clearly, there is a very large education gap to cover, especially considering that more than 60% of the continent’s population is under 25 years. This means that more than half of Africans (approximately 500 million) are potential students, eager for an education. And the best news? More than 90% of them are underserved or do not get anything from the current education systems across the continent.

The market is ripe for the taking. This is where EdTech comes in.

Potential For EdTech

EdTech has the potential to reach the most underserved across the continent. With increasing internet connectivity online education has the potential to do what traditional education has failed to do; provide much-needed knowledge and skills to the people most in need.

A number of entrepreneurs and institutions have already recognized this opportunity and are moving fast to provide online courses. As mentioned earlier there are currently more than 210 active startups across the continent. Traditional educational institutions from grade schools to universities have also created platforms to provide learning resources for those unable to attend physical classes.

Kenya’s Kenyatta University, for instance, has a very active open and distance learning program where learners can access the course’s resources for about 3 months after which they are expected to do physical end of semester examinations.

Such programs are getting more widespread across the continent and are mostly targeted at older students. These are people who for one reason or another do not have time to attend physical classes and so have to opt for online classes. Most of them are menial workers who want to improve their standing at their companies or are aiming for a complete career change.

Businesses are also cashing in huge in the EdTech space across the continent. Nigeria for one has been very active and is leading the continent in the number of EdTech startups. This is partly due to its huge population but also down to its startup ecosystem which is one of the most exciting on the continent. It is safe to bet that Africa’s Silicon Valley if there is ever going to be one, is probably going to be in Lagos or Abuja.

Kenya comes a close second after Nigeria. With one of the highest internet connectivity rates in Africa and a very young population, the country has the perfect conditions for an EdTech revolution. It is joined by countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius and Libya.

However, these nations are outliers in a region that is still mostly underserved even by EdTech. Despite its huge potential, the industry is in its infancy and still faces huge challenges in trying to reach millions of potential students.

Accessibility and Connectivity

Key among these challenges is connectivity. Despite huge gains made over the last few years much of the continent still remains unconnected to the internet. As a matter of fact, Africa has the least rate of internet connectivity in the world standing at 43.1 percent, lower than the global average of 66 percent.

Moreover, the rate of smartphone penetration isn’t all that impressive. At a paltry 30%, EdTech faces a huge challenge in reaching most of the population who can only access a feature phone at best. And even if smartphone penetration increases there is still the ‘small’ issue of network penetration which is still low, especially in mountainous remote regions.

Nonetheless, EdTech remains to be the only viable solution for the foreseeable future. As technology continues to be embedded more into education all around the globe Africa cannot be left behind, the continent has to adapt or risk being left further behind.

So, what can be done?

Well for one, the rate of internet penetration should be expedited. Granted the rate of increase in internet penetration is already a little impressive, but it has to increase if the continent is to catch up with the rest of the world.

With increased internet penetration businesses and education institutions will also have to ramp up their efforts in creating platforms for millions of knowledge-hungry students all across the continent. As mentioned earlier education has to be contextualized to the local region if it is to solve local and even global solutions. Local institutions thus have the responsibility to create content catered to their various audiences.

That said, there is still a lot of room for global platforms like Khan Academy to contribute to Africa’s rising EdTech revolution. I also see a lot of potential for Western/European EdTech startups like YouSchool to serve a region ‘untouched’ by much more established companies.

Overall, there is a lot of potential for EdTech growth but it can only be accessed by those brave enough to take on Africa’s unique challenges.

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