Nelson Mandela believed education is the most potent weapon with which one can change the world.
Consequently, lack of education causes an ordinary, stagnant world, crippled and lacking in the production of human capital and innovations.
While discussing education in Africa, one cannot help but notice the challenges that plague the sector, especially at the primary and secondary levels.
Issues like overcrowded classrooms, low number of teachers, obsolete curriculums, poor compensation, and support for teachers stand out.
Due to the poor conditions of most of the schools, teachers are frustrated and stressed out. A 2020 report on the drivers of teacher absenteeism in sub-Saharan Africa released by the United Nations (UN) revealed that, on average, 15.5% to 17.8% of the 3,498 teachers surveyed reported inability to work due to delayed salaries. This directly contributed to them being absent from work.
The size of a classroom, the quality of teaching materials, and the number of students matter in helping a teacher carry out their duties effectively.
A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report predicted that sub-Saharan Africa will need about 17 million additional teachers to achieve universal primary and secondary school education by 2030 because of a severe shortage of teachers.
Data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) shows that Central Africa has the highest pupil-teacher ratio in Africa at 80:1, with the lowest being 29:1 in Seychelles, compared to South Korea's 14:1 and Finland's 11:1.
Away from the problems and given the right conditions, how important is a teacher's role in education?
Be the smartest in the room
Role of teachers in the traditional education process
In the context of the conventional education process, a teacher's role goes beyond delivering a set of instructions aimed at impacting knowledge or rules to a group of learners. Teachers can be seen as mentors.
To get a comprehensive picture of the role of teachers in education, I reached out to Mrs Tina Matthew, an elementary school owner and early childhood educator who was a teacher for over a decade, to get her opinion on the subject. She believes that a teacher's role goes beyond the board and marker.
“Teachers are the bedrock of every profession. Their influence can determine how excited pupils are about a subject. I would say they can go as far as influencing their students/pupils view of the world. Children/learners/students can go on to find mentors, role models, friends and, in some cases, parent figures in their teachers.
"This is why it is important that they are well paid and compensated, as this acknowledges their immense value and plays a part in inciting excitement about their jobs."
Providing incentives go a long way in producing well-motivated teachers, students happy and curious about learning.
In commemoration of World Teachers Day, we look at how technology aids teachers' jobs and its role in the educational space. We also examine the responses of teachers to the use of tech in their work.
Edtech in Africa
As technology innovations have increased in Africa, the education industry has not been left out. With almost 60% of Africa’s population under the age of 25 and an average literacy rate of 70%, the continent lags behind other parts of the world and is ripe for disruptions in education.
However, edtech innovations in Africa are not so straightforward. While there is undoubtedly a huge addressable market, systemic issues make it difficult to progress in the edtech space.
One such problem is the lack of infrastructure. For edtech solutions to have any meaningful impact, the necessary infrastructure such as broadband connection must be present. This is not the case, however.
Broadband penetration rates differ across different countries. In Nigeria, for example, the federal government has made attempts to aid broadband penetration in the country by waiving payment of right of way (RoW) charges on federal highways. In addition, it has encouraged states to slash these charges as high fees are a significant challenge in extending broadband coverage.
However, only a few states have complied, meaning that broadband penetration differs across the country’s 36 states.
Another critical factor is the purchasing power of consumers. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India to become the ‘poverty capital of the world.’
The situation is not different in other parts of Africa. In fact, according to a World Bank publication, except things change, at the rate Africa’s population keeps growing, global poverty will become ‘increasingly African.’
The result of this is that while the total addressable market for edtech startups remains vast, the majority of this market cannot afford to buy mobile phones, laptops, or mobile data needed to access these products.
Innovative entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge, providing solutions that are tailor-made to Africa’s unique environment. South African edtech startup, Foondamate, for example, uses WhatsApp APIs to deliver lessons to students.
To understand why this is necessary, WhatsApp can run on most smartphones, and with most Africans accessing the Internet through mobile devices, the decision to go that route is genius.
Another startup trying its hand at tackling these challenges is uLesson. The company provides educational content for secondary school students in line with the curriculum in the countries – like Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, United States, and United Kingdom – where they operate. The content is put in a USB dongle which can be played on any device.
Recently, they introduced learning centres — places students can walk in and use provided devices to access the study materials. While it is still early days, this option could see more students use the startup’s product.
The focus on building solutions primarily for students without taking into account the role of teachers is another problem that the sector is faced with. In a previous article, we argued that involving teachers in the edtech innovation process would help solve the learning problem in Nigeria.
While the article's focus was on Nigeria, the same can be said for other countries in Africa. Fortunately, some entrepreneurs in the sector agree with that.
Boye Oshinaga, CEO and Co-founder of Gradely, believes that involving teachers in the ideation process is necessary since they have lots of field experience educating children and can give valuable insights.
While edtech startups are doing a great job, some of the challenges they face are not issues they can solve themselves.
Response of teachers to edtech
The issues raised earlier regarding poverty and infrastructural deficits mean it isn't easy to gauge how well teachers have responded to edtech innovations.
However, our discussions with a few teachers and entrepreneurs in the edtech sector revealed that some teachers have been receptive to the idea of using edtech innovations in their work.
Kabir Ogunbanwo, a maths teacher in a private secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria, says technology has helped him do his job better.
“Before now, only a few teachers have been involved in online teaching in one way or the other. Now, I have been exposed to different online teaching experiences."
Mrs Onabegun Mojisola, a teacher in a secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria, has had a different experience. She agrees that although technology serves as a means of resource and research for her job as a teacher, it has provided nothing else so far.
“As much as technology aids my job in making research for my notes, right now, in the school where I work, the only thing we have that you can say is technology is the Internet, which helps me in research. As for edtech software, I’m yet to make use of any for my job.”
For Bunmi Eyiaro, Learning and Development Manager at Tuteria, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology by teachers in different categories: those who were willing to use technology to make their jobs easier and teachers who started using technology reluctantly, perhaps because they had to use it.
However, she also conceded that there was some pushback from teachers due to not knowing how using technology in their processes would work.
Going by this, we could make the argument that while teachers might initially resist any attempt to move away from the traditional methods they are used to, with adequate instruction, they could be amenable to incorporating technology in their processes.
While there are undoubtedly enormous challenges that could prevent edtech startups from gaining ground in Africa, the truth remains that there is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to build solutions in the sector while providing teachers with the tools to improve their work.
As we pointed out earlier, the work teachers do go beyond instruction. Therefore, the chances of teachers being replaced by technology are slim. Instead, used correctly, technology could help them to increase productivity.
Happy World Teachers Day!