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Can technology help leapfrog education in Africa?

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Can technology help leapfrog education in Africa?

Rebecca Winthrop

Katie Langford

01 Feb 2018

3min min read
  • Education
  • Information technology

he talent and energy of Africa’s young people is being poorly served by many of its underperforming education systems. Across low-income countries, only 8 percent of children are on track to master basic secondary education level skills in areas such as math, language and critical thinking.

According to our analysis, it will take the average student in sub-Saharan Africa almost 100 years to catch up to the average student in high-income countries in terms of how many years of school she will attend and how much she will learn.

Given that the numbers of young people in Africa are only set to increase in the coming years, education systems must find new ways of fully supporting their talents.

Investing in Africa’s young people by giving them the skills they need for the future is perhaps one of the smartest strategies for accelerating progress in the region. Some argue that this education-led growth is the way of the future, particularly when analysing the changes technology will likely reap on jobs, including transforming many low-skilled jobs into ones that will require more complex, non-routine cognitive and inter-personal tasks.

Therefore, the question remains: Can the creativity and innovation that is taking place across Africa be harnessed to help rapidly accelerate education progress?

"In sub-Saharan Africa, innovators are leveraging technology to reach out-of-school children, enhance classroom engagement, disseminate classroom materials, and track student progress, among other things."

This is a question we examined in the recent report Can We Leapfrog? The Potential of Education Innovations to Rapidly Accelerate Progress. Around the world, Africa is well known as a leader in “leapfrog development,” namely accelerating development progress by skipping entire phases of infrastructure- and institution-building.

Mobile banking is a successful example. If such rapid, nonlinear progress is possible in these areas, why could the same not be true in education?

It is possible but will require significant shifts in the way education is done. Already, sub-Saharan Africa is ripe with education innovations, making up 23 percent of the catalog. In our study, countries such as Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda are hotspots of education innovations, hosting approximately 60 percent of the innovations from the region. 

Given the scope and scale of the education challenges we face, well-deployed technology can provide meaningful support to global leapfrogging efforts. In sub-Saharan Africa, innovators are leveraging technology to reach out-of-school children, enhance classroom engagement, disseminate classroom materials, and track student progress, among other things. For example, television and SMS technology are often used to deliver content to children and teachers, and information and communication technology centres, providing materials and training opportunities, are increasing educational access both in and outside of schools

Most technology-based education innovations in the region utilise existing tools in new ways. Eneza Education, with its reliance on SMS, is one example of such practices. A private sector program operating in Ghana, Kenya,  Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, Eneza provides students with mobile access to quizzes connected to the national curriculum. After completing the assessments via text, students receive feedback and mini-lessons targeting areas where they need support. Teachers use their phones to track student progress, identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses. The results of such interventions are promising: Internal evaluation results showed that students who used Eneza increased their scores by 5 percent compared to a control group.

With an openness to innovation, sub-Saharan Africa shows great promise for leapfrogging in education. Though projects that utilise technology to transform existing education practices are currently outliers in educational innovations, they offer bright examples of the potential to close the 100-year gap. If we are to leapfrog education for learners in Africa and beyond, we must make room for bold new approaches; transformative technology has the potential to support such rapid progress.

This is an excerpt from 'Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2018 ', a report produced by our content partner, the Brookings Institution. Download it here.

(Main image: Mary-Ann Palmer/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.