The Platform

Students in South Sudan. (Isaac Billy)

Education in underperforming African countries can be improved through the use of Edtech.

Access to high-quality education is crucial for human development and sustainable economic growth. According to the United Nations, “Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development.”

However, many African countries face significant challenges in providing equitable and inclusive education due to limited resources, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of qualified teachers.

The digital divide further exacerbates these issues by limiting access to technology and hindering educational opportunities for millions of students across the African continent. In a Deutsche Welle article, Isaac Kaledzi highlights that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion in the world, with nearly 60 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds not attending school. Despite the enormous challenge of achieving inclusive education in sub-Saharan Africa, the potential benefits are significant. Edtech (the use of technology in education) can help overcome these obstacles and enhance educational outcomes in Africa while also saving costs.

Isabel Neto and Michel Rogy argue that many Africans still lack access to the technologies they need. Insufficient access to technology remains a serious concern in Africa, particularly among rural and marginalized populations. According to World Bank statistics from 2017, only 22% reported having access to the technologies they would need to succeed. High expenses, inadequate infrastructure, and limited electrical supply all hinder the widespread use of digital tools necessary for effective learning.

A 2022 assessment by the International Energy Agency reveals that over 600 million people lack access to electricity, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries like Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda are leading the way by aiming for complete access by 2030, serving as successful examples for other nations. Extending national grids is the most cost-effective and feasible choice for approximately 45% of people seeking access, while solar-based mini-grids and stand-alone systems are the most viable solutions for rural areas, where the majority of individuals without electricity reside.

The digital divide widens existing educational disparities. Typically, students in urban areas and well-resourced institutions have greater access to technology and online resources compared to those in rural and disadvantaged areas. Even in urban settings, children from impoverished households are less likely to attend school than those from the wealthiest households in most countries. A 2021 study indicates that inequality varies across countries and age groups, with Tanzania, Burundi, Nigeria, and Uganda displaying the highest inequalities favoring urban wealthier children. This inequality perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hampers social mobility.

Students in Guéchémé, Niger
Students in Guéchémé, Niger. (Stephan Gladieu/World Bank)

Edtech solutions can bridge the educational gap by providing access to high-quality educational content, personalized learning experiences, and interactive tools. Online platforms, digital textbooks, and educational apps can reach students in remote areas, ensuring access to quality education regardless of geographical location.

Furthermore, Edtech solutions empower teachers by providing them with resources, training, and support to deliver effective instruction. Online professional development programs, such as eLearning Africa and virtual learning communities, enable teachers to acquire new skills, exchange best practices, and stay updated with educational advancements.

Edtech solutions also promote lifelong learning by offering flexible learning pathways and opportunities for upskilling and reskilling. Online courses and virtual skill development programs enable individuals to acquire new knowledge and skills, leading to improved employability and economic empowerment.

Infrastructure development should be a top priority for governments and stakeholders, including the expansion of reliable Internet connectivity, access to affordable devices, and the provision of electricity in remote areas. Public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in bridging the infrastructure gap. The Digital Economy Initiative for Africa (DE4A), supported by the World Bank and other development partners and stakeholders, aims to ensure that every individual, business, and government in Africa is digitally enabled by 2030.

However, achieving digital transformation in Africa requires collective commitment, leadership, and resources from African countries, development partners, and the private sector to build a thriving digital economy. This includes infrastructure, skills, financial services, supportive environments, risk management, promoting cross-border integration, and measuring progress.

Governments and stakeholders should also prioritize investments in initiatives that expand access to knowledge. For example, the Africa Online & Publications Library (AOPL) reaches 10,000 students and teachers each month across the continent. AOPL collects, compiles, digitally preserves, disseminates, and popularizes knowledge produced in Africa over the years, including student theses, dissertations, and open-access research. It also publishes its own open journals, fostering innovative research and scientific curiosity among Africans.

Comprehensive digital literacy programs should be implemented to equip students, instructors, and communities with the skills required to effectively utilize Edtech solutions. Training programs, seminars, and capacity-building initiatives should be implemented at all levels of education. Research conducted in The Gambia in 2020 indicates that instituting a student-centered computer-assisted learning program has a substantial positive effect on student performance and teaching efficacy in secondary institutions. By incorporating interactive technology alongside traditional teaching methods in classrooms, policymakers can facilitate increased access to education, leading to greater learning outcomes and skill acquisition.

To optimize the potential of Edtech, stakeholders, including governments, educational institutions, technology corporations, and civil society organizations, should facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing. Partnerships can enable resource sharing, collaborative research, and the creation of scalable and sustainable Edtech solutions.

Given the high mobile phone usage statistics in Africa, adopting mobile technology as a feasible strategy for implementing Edtech projects on the continent is a viable idea. Governments and stakeholders can create an enabling environment that supports the integration of Edtech into the education system by implementing the proposed policy recommendations, ultimately contributing to sustainable development in Africa.

Ransom Tanyu is currently a Doctoral candidate in Political and Administrative Sciences at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He holds a Master's degree in International Security Management from the Berlin School of Economics and Law, a Master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Bergen, and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in History from the University of Buea. Throughout his career, Ransom Tanyu has gained professional experience in various domains, including humanitarian aid, cybersecurity, academia, media, and administration. He is the founder of Africa Online and Publications Library.