At different points in my short life, several things have come with the promise of being life-changing, and I have held onto them with no intention of letting go.
Think about it for a moment, and you’ll see that the same can be said of us all and for our world.
From the now obsolete rotary telephones and wired landlines to the recent extraordinary leaps in AI, innovation promises long-lasting change, but is sometimes the forerunner to bigger and better things that promise more enduring change before the new and flashy updates roll around. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
This cycle of change happens everywhere and with the rise of edtech — education technology — arguments about whether it can replace traditional schooling methods abound.
Education plays a crucial role in society and nation-building, but illiteracy paves the way for societal menace and neglect of diverse resources; however, the panacea is enlightenment via easy access to quality education.
Edtech is an area of technology devoted to developing and applying tools to facilitate education.
The recent proliferation of Internet-based learning platforms has made it easier for people to get formal or informal education. And quite many brick and mortar schools are launching online-based classes to aid distance learning, some of which are free.
With mobile and desktop applications, web resources, video-based learning spaces, and even social networking platforms that aid learning, technology has greatly impacted education. One might be quick to conclude that technology-based education is here to stay and evolve beyond our imaginations.
A reach from formal to niche and vocative learning
The edtech industry is all-encompassing in that it is not restricted to formal learners alone. With platforms like SuperProfs, Teachers Pay Teachers, Udemy, and others, teachers and field professionals can engage students and hobbyists alike.
In April, Udemy Co-founder, Gagan Biyani, launched Maven, a cohort-based course. Some days later, he put out a tweet where he mentioned wiring ~$100,000 each to two of Maven’s first instructors. And applications to be an instructor are open for creatives and niche experts worldwide.
There’s also South Africa’s Teacheron, which is an online platform that enables students of all ages to place requests for teachers and tutors from diverse fields and backgrounds. Tutors can charge as much as R400 ($28.25) per hour.
These are only two examples of the edtech industry’s enormous employment potential.
A peek at edtech in Africa
There are many projections about edtech’s potential impact on Africa.
These optimistic projections stem from the number of African students and young people who attend online classes from schools abroad and a growing number of youth leveraging technology to learn and build things.
The African Virtual University, created by the World Bank in 1997 and established by a charter signed by eighteen African member states, was Africa’s first Internet-based school. It also has a physical building in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
The World Bank handed over control of the University to the African government in 2003. The aim was to increase access to bigger education for Africans by assigning students a personal webpage when they register. However, the website is currently dormant.
Although quite an arduous task to ascertain, Africa reportedly has over 1.2 billion people. Her 54 countries currently have a total of 1,225 officially recognised universities, which can’t meet the continent’s education needs.
Away from higher education, the COVID-19 lockdown showed the potential that edtech has for elementary and secondary education in Africa if the necessary infrastructure is put in place.
Sim Shagaya, CEO and Co-founder of uLesson, an edtech startup for secondary school students, believes that edtech has a future in Africa because of its young population and deep penetration of private school-going students, which could create troves of students willing and able to pay for supplementary education.
Even Africa’s government-run elementary educational system faces challenges like overcrowded classrooms and poor teacher-to-student ratio. Private schools are the next available option, but their high fees are only affordable by a few.
These problems led Sam Gichuru — a Kenyan serial entrepreneur — to found Kidato, an online K-12 learning platform which announced its $1.4million seed raise in April. The classes are personalised for effective teacher-to-student engagement.
In all this, there are the aforementioned issues of erratic electricity supply and unaffordable Internet data in most African countries.
There’s also FoondaMate, a South African WhatsApp-based edtech startup solving the problems of low access to textbooks and learning resources with its AI integrated on the messaging platform to answer questions and provide study materials.
Proffering technology-based solutions will go a long way to address the various problems plaguing Africa’s education sector.
For a while, edtech’s reach and impact were evident across the higher education scene for university and postgraduate degrees.
A 2020 Online schools report revealed that online college enrollment in bachelor’s and master’s degrees increased globally by 42.59% from 2012 to 2017. That’s a leap from 425,900 to almost one million online students in six years.
The surge in the global interest in online education in 2020 might be attributed to the COVID-19 lockdowns, many of which were total in some countries. And edtech reached across varying levels of education, from elementary to postgraduate.
As of March 13, 2020, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data stated that over 421 million students had been affected by school closures announced or implemented in 39 countries, including Nigeria.
Another report by the World Economic Forum reveals that while countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures.
This report also reveals that even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in edtech, with global investments reaching $18.66 billion in 2019, and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.
Factors like poor Internet infrastructure and epileptic power supply hinder the broad reach of edtech in most developing countries. Its various advantages like lower tuition, shorter time for lessons, the flexibility of classes, and a host of others, might be worth the effort.