Conversations about Education and Edtech in Africa

Reopening schools and what tools people are using to learn in Africa

I spoke to my mum a few days ago, she runs a school, one of the things we spoke about was how things are going at the school. She recently had a meeting with the parents about moving the school online. Nobody saw COVID-19 coming but it’s here to stay and we all have to adapt.

Many people agree students wouldn’t possibly go back to school until next year (best case). It’s not safe, even adults that are supposed to be more careful aren’t safe outside. Anyone could carry the virus. 

Recently, I’ve heard debates about reopening schools and I think it’s pointless. To be fair, some programs must have debates and get callers to chip in their opinions, I get that.

My response to the debate about students going back to school is simple:

The risk of spreading the virus > Schooling. In fact, the risk of spreading the virus > Education.

Like other sectors, Education has to adjust, and this adjustment typically involves leveraging on technology to replicate a similar experience virtually. When I think of the changes made in the education space, it’s easy to be carried away by the popular e-learning platforms, which seem to offer the best experience.

But how impactful are they in Africa?

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 2020: 50% (826 million) of learners worldwide, do not have a household computer, in Subsaharan Africa, it’s 89% (216 million). Also, Globally, 43% of learners do not have household internet while 82% of learners (119 million) learners do not have household internet in Africa. To this, I’d say as Impactful as the available infrastructure allows them.

To an extent they are but it can’t scale, at least not yet. 

There are a number of interesting responses to this tweet.

The next option which has seen a rapid rise in usage are messaging apps, Whatsapp and Telegram mostly.

Whatsapp is the most dominant app in Africa. As per Wee Tracker, It’s used by 73 per cent of internet users in Kenya, 53 per cent of internet users in Nigeria, and 49 per cent of internet users in South Africa. In 2018, WhatsApp accounted for almost half of all mobile data used in Zimbabwe.

Many people in Africa have turned to Whatsapp to continue schooling because it’s widely used, yet it isn’t immersive or intuitive for learning, It is not organized as it’s just one continuous stream of conversation.  It’s also difficult to track who has learned and how much.

Also, Whatsapp comes with the question of how many poor people own Smartphones in Africa? The cost of data and the availability of power.

The unexpected better solution 

Edtech by Radio by Techcabal brought to my attention that recent efforts by Kenya (already broadcasting lessons) and Nigeria hint that the use of Radio to broadcast lessons could be the most effective tool for schooling K-12. It’s cost-effective and more prevalent than the other two options. Many appliances and gadgets come with a radio.

Radio obviously has its limitations: You can’t rewind or go back to catch up on missed sections, it’s less engaging as it’s not visually stimulating. Also, it’s difficult to monetize this, maybe ads but still not scalable.

But it works for a larger part of the population. Its wide reach makes up for its limitations. 

I believe when we’re talking about Edtech in Africa we should also think of how many people use messaging tools and the radio because they’re more people using these two than software-enabled e-learning platforms.

Radio > Messaging tools > E-Learning Platforms

The use of radio also reminds me that technology isn’t just ‘internet’ or ‘software’. It’s just science or knowledge used to solve problems or invent useful tools.

Edtech right now looks like the first wave of eCommerce, it’s still lacking enabling infrastructure - internet access, payment, smartphone ownership, power supply. With a lot of investment going to this space, it raises up the question of how large is the addressable market?

Should everyone be building different tools or should there be more collaboration? 

Since capitalism and an open market roots for the former, may the best man win as we wait for enabling infrastructure to catch up.

Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. – Kofi Annan

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