By involving teachers, can edtech startups solve the learning problem in Nigeria?

by | Dec 4, 2019

In light of innovation in education around the world, it is no news that Nigeria’s educational system needs thorough re-evaluation and standardisation.

According to Lagos Business School Insight, there are three important educational constructs when taking the Nigerian educational system into consideration: How are Nigerian schools funded? What is the content of students’ curricula? How are the teachers trained?

With regard to how schools are funded, the government is the one to be held responsible.

Looking at the second construct where the country’s curricula can be argued to be the one used during the colonial era, there obviously is a myriad of problems.

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Top of the list are the education examination bodies in Nigeria — the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the National Universities Commission (NUC) —  that shove these outdated content and curricula down the throats of primary, secondary, and tertiary students when the country’s colonial masters — Britain — have since improved theirs.

Around these outdated curricula, startups have since sprung up taking shots at solving problems with a huge demand existing for self assessments, test preparation, and after school lessons.

Despite not wanting to discredit the effort of these startups, it seems  the assumption being made is that students, mostly in primary and secondary schools, will not learn at school. Teaching is just someone else’s problem. But will students learn if the short-term assessment focus continues to ignore the last construct of Nigeria’s educational system — teaching?

In a utopian setting, teachers are seen as education professionals able to see and understand the whole child, contextualise learning such that it is relevant to each child, and ensure that schooling is meaningful to all children.

However, the current poor quality of teacher education, along with the lack of teacher autonomy, and a standardised one-size-fits-all approach, has resulted in a crisis in teaching as a profession and in the quality of learning in most Nigerian schools.

It would mean a great deal for the country if startups positioned themselves to solve our learning problems through the teachers.

Consider this example. Meghshala, an edtech startup in India, set its sights on addressing the quality of teaching in government and private schools by building teach-kits for mathematics, English, social studies, and science that can be loaded on teachers’ phones.

These teach-kits are based on text-books at each grade level, making it easier for teachers to learn what to teach, plan their lessons, and deliver them in class.

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Such solutions improve the teacher’s quality, resulting in better teaching and exceptional learning on the part of the students.

During November’s edition of Pitch Friday held at Techpoint’s HQ, three of the four startups that pitched were involved in one form of educational technology or the other with the sole objective being to help students learn.

Conversations around these solutions led an attendee to ask if edtech platforms could really be the solution to Nigeria’s learning problem.

One of the pitchers, Akintade Samson, CEO of Quizac Education, answered in the affirmative. He, however, cited teachers’ quality as one of the areas that needs addressing.

“My simple answer is a definite yes. However, we need to first shift our mind away from the current wave of disrupting education with technology and look more closely at what works and what doesn’t work. Issues like teachers’ quality contribute to learning being a major problem and if we focus on the right problems and not just adopt solutions, we’ll make positive headway towards solving this problem.”

While it might seem like the go-to strategy for an all-encompassing learning framework, building solutions to produce better teachers in Nigeria is a tough one. This is due to factors ranging from digital literacy to smartphone and Internet access to regulations. With limited investments, edtech startups in the country are then forced to provide solutions for consumers who have little barrier to entry — students.

Addressing this, Titilope Adewusi, CEO of 9ija Kids, an online platform that teaches children about Nigeria, entrepreneurship, and values using games, speaks on why teachers are almost an afterthought in the design thinking of edtech startup founders.

“Buying power for edtech solutions lies more with the parents and students than schools and teachers, especially from a scale up perspective. Currently, if solutions are to be designed for teachers, they would need to be mainly based on low-end mobile phone technology if they are to be accessible by a significant teacher population. For the potential of this segment to come to light, a major drive in affordable devices or smartphones and data plans are [sic] imperative.”

Even if edtech startups can close the learning gap in the Nigerian education system, they will still need a conducive environment and the necessary regulatory framework to scale.

In Adewusi’s words,

“There is the opportunity to develop edtech solutions for teachers to support the sector but it first requires a more enabling environment.”

Endlessly amused by technology. @ulonnaya

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