EdTech in Africa: Who Gets it Right?

Teresa Mbagaya
Aug 28, 2017 · 4 min read
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Photo by Rebecca Crook @stickylittleleaves

In recent years, education technology has become inextricable from education reform, resulting in a steady increase in edtech startups and private entities innovating in education. We ask: how can technology create more efficient institutions, will more digitally literate educators become better teachers, and will ICT integration positively impact education outcomes? Understanding the realities and complexities of education in Africa, it is imperative that the edtech community interrogate the problems they aim to address, center the solution to the local context, and look towards outcomes as a measure of impact. To these enterprises, I offer the below:

1. Build with mobile in mind. Africa boasts nearly 700M mobile subscribers, equivalent to 60% of the continent’s population; 300K of whom utilize mobile internet. Mobile learning makes equitable access to education possible, reaching the masses, the excluded, and the marginalized.

2. Localize your solution. There exists a dearth of platforms which support local languages, particularly for younger audiences. While evidence on the benefits of mother-tongue instruction is strong, half of all children in low and middle-income countries are not taught in a language they speak. Contextualizing your solution to focus on local languages, while not a must, certainly differentiates your value proposition.

3. Teachers are your champions, not the problem. Whether instructor led feedback or teacher empowerment through the promotion of professional development and digital literacy, educators are critical in ensuring buy-in and continued success. Engage and empower them.

4. Find opportunity in the delivery of data management and assessment tools. Through data, institutions are empowered to promote better decision making, to realize and implement personalized learning, and to monitor key learning indicators on what works in education and how to scale such efforts.

5. Lastly, invest in the development of Africa’s youth. Young people represent more than 60% of the continent’s total population, a number that will double in the next 30 years. What will your contribution be, towards bridging the world of education with the world of work?

Ultimately, the private sector has flexibility to rapidly trial and scale new approaches, models, and learning methods. To transform education in and beyond the classroom, we need to drive for both holistic and systemic change and work collaboratively to bring the best ideas, tools, and partnerships forward. Through such partnerships, we can scale education to reach more students, deliver locally relevant content, improve the quality of our educators, and realize quality education in Africa.

Below with my view of noteworthy edtech startups in the continent. Each, in their approach, aims to solve a unique challenge with a solution that is rooted in local context.

1. Andela provides training for software developers in Africa who are in turn matched with global companies to help them quickly and confidently scale their software teams. This model positions Africa as exporters of talent, allowing the continent to engage more critically in borderless economies.

2. Chalkboard Education offers a mobile learning platform accessible on feature and smart phones enabling students to learn and earn certified degrees from varied universities. The unique offering here is in a solution accessible even on feature phones, advancing higher education beyond the walls of a university.

3. Eneza is a virtual tutor offering mobile quizzes and tutorials through Kenya’s largest telco provider. The platform builds upon mobile as a delivery mechanism targeting nearly 2M learners across East Africa with amortised billing to ensure affordability for all learners.

4. Mwabu offers highly interactive education content via a personal learning device with primary school lessons in eight local languages to over 200K students in Zambia. In the full extent of my survey on initiatives in EdTech in the continent, Mwabu stands alone in its focus on localized content for early childhood learning and primary education.

5. Snapplify is a bespoke digital publishing solutions provider with an array of platforms from digital books, magazines, newspapers, and video development enabling Africans to both create and consume content.

6. Ubongo Kids is a television show designed to help children discover the joys of math through local stories and songs. There is power in a well told story, especially when the approach is to celebrate the realities that children see and experience through local tales and artistry.

Edtech, while nascent, and accounting for only 5% of total impact investments in Sub-Saharan Africa, has great potential for impact. In the next decade, we will see increasing investments focused on: low cost schools, revisionary and test preparation, mobile and digital courses, and data management platforms and services. Hopefully, the maturity of this industry will be buttressed by increased access to human and financial capital, enabling environments for private sector-led activity, and an engaged public sector aligned on a common mandate and vision towards improved learning outcomes in Africa.

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