Five things I learned about Edtech in Africa

How tech is helping deliver educational content across the continent

First published on LinkedIn on 22 April 2021

Today I posted the final episode in the DIT’s Tech for Growth Series, exploring how educational technology – Edtech – is being used to break through barriers to education and training in Africa. You can listen to the podcast here:

Scarce resources, lack of connectivity to the Internet – the source of most of our educational content these days – and lack of digital awareness, are all holding back the delivery of education in Africa. And with the one of the youngest populations on the planet, Africa’s need for Edtech solutions continues to grow.

To understand how Edtech can overcome these challenges, I spoke with three innovative companies that are addressing the problem from different angles, serving both those who are connected to the digital ecosystem, as well as the digitally excluded.

My speakers were Dr Susann Dattenberg-Doyle, Founder of Right for Education (R:Ed) and Queen of Gbi Kpoeta, Ghana; Alphonce Odhiambo, IT Network Engineer at the Tunapanda Institute; and George Brown, CEO of PORGiESOFT.

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Last articles on R:Ed’s website

Here are my five takeaways from our discussions:

1)    Connecting users to educational content is just as important as the content itself. That is why these Edtech’s content delivery systems take into account their users’ lack of connectivity and the high cost of data in Africa. R:Ed’s articles are short and sharp, with minimal graphics (which use a lot of data to download), PORGiESOFT’s AI assistants can work offline in schools where Internet connections are poor or non-existent, and TunapandaNET is specifically designed to connect to the Internet those without smartphones or access to 3G.

2)    There is a need for more Africa-centric educational content, which is relevant to and appropriate for African cultural values and which gives an African perspective on global issues. Too much of the educational material available on the Internet – Wikipedia, Google – is Western-focused, relegating Africa to the sidelines. Bridging that gap is the priority of Edtechs like R:Ed, which is developing its own stable of African writers to produce Africa-centric content delivered ‘at eye level’.

3)    Getting community buy-in has been key to the success of these Edtechs in Africa. TunapandaNET spent two years winning trust in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, engaging with community leaders and employing locals to run the 40 WiFi hubs they created there. This has proved crucial for convincing Kibera’s residents that community networks can bring real value to them and should have their support. R:Ed and PORGiESOFT have also worked hard to create local networks in Africa to support their work and disseminate it further. 

4)    All of these Edtechs are working to create a sustainable financing model for their services. Few, if any, African students or schools can afford to pay for digital content, so for now the costs of creating and distributing it are covered by donors, foundations and donations. But these Edtechs are experimenting with commercial models that can make their businesses sustainable in the long term. For example, R:Ed is partnering with retailers to carry out market research on their products with R:Ed’s network of over 10 million daily users, while TunapandaNET is negotiating with schools in its network to work out how much each student can afford to pay for Internet and factoring this into its costs. 

5)    Each of these companies demonstrates how Edtech can be a powerful ‘add-on’ service, rather than a stand-alone technology (rather like Insurtech is for mobile phone or distributed power customers). There is an opportunity for companies who are seeking to test or promote their products and services to use Edtech as a means of engaging with their audience, getting feedback and acquiring new customers. This could provide the key to making Edtech sustainable and profitable.

That’s all for now. Please share your responses to the podcast in the chat below. You can access the full Tech for Growth Series here:

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Teacher using PORGiESOFT’s AI assistant