Digital education in Africa is ripe

Africa Nov 22, 2020

“Due to COVID19, with few exceptions, schools are now closed countrywide across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, putting additional stress on education systems in developing countries, many of which are struggling to provide quality education for all.

What considerations do disruption on this scale raise? Are there ways to mitigate the effects of protracted school closures?” Asks Christopher Thomas-Social Entrepreneur in Residence - Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education

The pandemic just speeded up the evolution of business models and education business in Africa is no exception. However, some highly regarded commentators think that; since African countries rank in the bottom third of countries in terms of internet availability and affordability, then online instruction is a distant prospect for most people. The optimist in me thinks that the prospect of online education is already upon us and covid19 just speeded things with a thrust akin to space X’s falcon 9 Engine.

My optimism is not unfounded;

1. -Getting smarter

The smartphone market across Africa saw total shipments of 22.6 million units during the third quarter of 2019, an increase of 4% on the second quarter, according to market analyst International Data Corporation (IDC). Overall, mobile phone shipments to the continent amounted to 55.8 million units during the third quarter of 2019. Feature or basic mobile phones accounted for 59.4% of the total compared, with smartphones taking up the other 40.6%.

2. -Rise of alternative offline education Technologies

Where internet connectivity is poor or too expensive for the community, the void is being filled by Free and open source education technology platform that allows in and out of school pupils and students to learn at their own pace, while providing teachers or mentors with educational resources.

One prominent example is Kolibri. With Kolibri, pupils, students and teachers in government schools can access content on Mathematics, Sciences, technology, arts, humanities and life skills in form of text, videos, interactive simulations and digital education games. The platform available online ( and offline also contains videos in sign language, ebooks for children with low vision and audio books for the benefit of children with disabilities.

3. -Fall of price of smart devices

In the immediate aftermath of the initial lockdowns many third world Government toyed with the idea of remote education but one of the main hindrance was digital access of education content. Most people in the third world still find smart devices too expensive.

Some countries like Uganda up until now are still considering distributing radio sets to students so that they can listen in to lessons.

While this challenge of ownership of smart digital devices remains, IDC's latest Worldwide Mobile Tracker shows that smartphone shipments to Africa rose 5.4% YoY in Q4 2019 to total 24.4 million units. Smartphone demand was driven by the launch of various new affordable and feature-rich models. Transsion brands (Tecno, Itel, and Infinix) continued to dominate Africa's smartphone space in Q4 2019, with 40.6% unit share. Samsung and Huawei followed in second and third place, with respective unit shares of 18.6% and 9.8%. The Transsion brands Tecno and Itel also dominated the feature phone landscape with a combined share of 69.5%. HMD placed third with 10.2% share.

"Transsion's huge success can be attributed to the fact that its devices are competitively priced and largely purpose built for African consumers," says Arnold Ponela, a research analyst at IDC. "The vendor's continued marketing efforts also enabled it to gain market share from more established brands."

4. -Growth of private education

While the education has been dominated by Govt, Private sector participation is promising to dominate the sector in the next decade. The private sector is always faster to adopt, adapt and transform. Therefore my optimism is premised on this fact that the private sector led education industry will adopt digital education sooner than later.

According to Caerus Capital LLC- an investment and advisory firm focused on healthcare and education in emerging markets, the private sector is already making a significant contribution to education delivery and services. A vibrant private sector, particularly when operating in an engaged, flexible, and concordant relationship with government, can help drive access, quality, relevance, and innovation.

All the pieces falling in place, remote digital education in Africa has never been more ready to take off. My estimation is that, in the aftermath of COVID19, it will take a few light and nimble startup technologies to ignite the engine of growth. My bet is on technologies to enable efficient production, distribution, dissemination and monetization of education content.

If you wish to participate/contribute to this debate, please contact [email protected]. We are holding workshops and masterclasses to equip content creators with Technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). Let us know if you are interested.

SDG 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”

Mark Rutaro

Businessman, Entrepreneur, trader, family.... just human

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