edtech — p 4 the development of compelling, relevant, afro-centric education technology (or...

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  • AfricA 4 Tech Digital Talks


  • Preconference PAPer

    nov. 2 — 4 2016

  • Turning cuTTing- edge oPPorTuniTy inTo grAssrooTs reAliTy : PersPecTives on how To develoP, scAle And finAnce educATion Technology in AfricA


  • A4T edTech — P 4

    The development of compelling, relevant, Afro-centric education technology (or edtech, as it will be referred to in this paper) presents a threefold challenge to educationalists and technologists alike. The first is the question of “why edtech?”. On a continent with significant socio- political, security, and economic challenges, why should we embrace edtech? Efforts to bridge the digital divide in African education have tended to focus on increasing access to ICTs : Why not start with the development of a functioning, robust education system? According to the IMF, by 2035 there will be more young Africans in the working age population (15–64 years old) than that from the rest of the world combined1. Improved education and training is vital to develop the skills and capabilities required for to transition to the more advanced economic activities. The disparities in education access between geographic regions, racial groups and social classes have been exacerbated by the digital revolution. The education and entertainment landscape of children in the Western world have been shaped by digital technologies. Massive investment in the development of digital content for children in Western countries has not been matched in Africa, where only a fraction of the population has access to ICTs.

    Much of the innovation in edtech has focused on the use of technology to support the practice and pedagogy of learning and teaching. Simply put, technology enabled education : Why not focus on building a wide-scale telecommunications and online information network to allow people basic access to educational content, email, blogs, videos, news? Why not focus our collective efforts on strengthening access to mobile phones - the vehicle by which billions of Africans connect to the internet?

    Mobile surveying company GeoPoll and World Wide Worx surveyed 3 500 mobile phone users in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda as part of the Mobile Africa 2015 study. 40% of individuals surveyed in these countries use the internet on their mobile phones. The breakdown of usage by country stood at 51% in Ghana, 47% in Nigeria, 40% in South Africa, 34% in Kenya and 29% in Uganda. Despite lagging in mobile internet usage, South Africa leads in app downloads, suggesting a higher penetration of smartphones. 34% of South Africa mobile users download apps compared to 31% in Ghana, 28% in

    Three quesTions

    1. International Monetary Fund (2003) Regional economic outlook. Sub-Saharan Africa : Navigating Headwinds.

  • A4T edTech — P 5

    Nigeria, 19% in Kenya and 18% in Uganda2. The need for upgrade of African ICT infrastructure is apparent and imperative.

    The question is not as glib or apparent as it may first seem : Why edtech - why now? This paper will go some way to explaining an Africa4Tech macro perspective on why edtech is a worthwhile intervention for Africa’s sometimes fragile education ecosystems but ideally, each region, country, district, community would have its own approach and answer for this question.

    The second question is often “what will it take to make edtech work in Africa?”. Here, issues of access, content, platform, device, agency, stakeholders, financing, infrastructure, capabilities and opportunities enter the debate. In his 2015 annual letter, Gates discussed his belief that technology will aid, rather than replace, teachers, but said that overcoming structural issues — such as poverty and the gender opportunity gap — is crucial to making sure new technology developments can actually have an impact3.

    As a result, edtech in Africa cannot develop in the same way as in other more advanced economies. This paper thus devotes most of its attention to the question of what edtech’s development will look like in Africa. We seek to offer a high-level overview of some of the emerging patterns in edtech ways of working that are contributing to innovative and sustainable answers to this question. Again, we also acknowledge that the complexity of specific national contexts changes the optimal approach and dominant narrative substantively. Thus we focus on recurring themes and perspectives on what it will take to operationalise edtech across the continent and provide a non-exhaustive set of illustrative case studies and use cases from the private, public and social sector.

    The third - and arguably most urgent - question of Africa4Tech’s edtech stream is “how do we make this real?”. The educationalists and technologists meet each other at this junction between the “why” and the “what”; the needs and the tools. Positing on hypothetical opportunities, reflecting on real-world challenges, and drawing lessons from successes and shortcomings elsewhere only goes some way in understanding how to practically make the changes required to activate large-scale edtech. Africa4Tech aims to use the next few days of this creative collaboration to answer this question. To do this, participants will need to consider not just how new technologies and operating models can be developed and integrated but also how new learning and teaching practices and pedagogies that can be created and mainstreamed in response to an increasingly digital and connected world.

    2. UNESCO-UIS (2015). ICT in education in Sub-Saharan Africa : A regional analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness. Montreal : UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

    3. https ://www.gatesnotes.com/2015-Annual- Letter?page=0&lang=en

  • A4T edTech — P 6

    Edtech platforms typically replicate existing educational materials on digital platforms. Similarly, the practices that educators implore to support learning and teaching, such as curriculum planning, assessment, and monitoring and evaluation, are also replicated on digital platforms in the form of online adaptive assessment services and test preparation support. This section details four major categories of these platforms applicable to African edtech : online learning content, learning management systems, adaptive assessment and test preparation platforms, game- or simulation- based learning tools.

    online leArning conTenT

    Historically, education has been a business requiring the construction of physical buildings. This has not traditionally been a rapid scaling business. Broad Online Learning Platforms are growing at an astounding rate in countries like China, where population and demand for education far outstrips the rate at which physical schools can be built. Content is recreated and reformatted for consumption on an electronic, usually web-enabled, device. Educational ebooks or etextbooks are a good example of this. In Africa, this device is most-often a mobile phone. The majority of Africa’s online and mobile learning projects focus on formal education in primary and secondary schools, with a higher concentration of projects in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda than in any other countries.4 Tertiary or higher education has received less attention but this is changing with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs as they are commonly referred to. MOOCs provide education in the form of online course content, lectures, assessments, and projects, and have been one of the biggest unrealised edtech opportunities for the African continent. “The available open educational resources such as MOOCs, developed by leading universities, could be used, adapted and customised according to learners’ needs, culture and context,” says Dr Zeinab El Maadawi, an Associate Professor and Expert in eLearning and International Education Management at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, “In this case MOOCs can be utilised either as a stand-alone model or be integrated in a blended learning format coupled with traditional in-campus teaching.”5


    4. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Turning on Mobile Learning in Africa and the Middle East : Illustrative initiatives and policy implications (2012), Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning (WPS ML)

    5. http ://ela-newsportal.com/moocs-a-must-not-a-luxury/

  • A4T edTech — P 7

    The advantages of MOOCs is that they allow a large number of students to learn at a flexible pace. Very few of these registered students graduate from these programs and even fewer MOOCs are recognised, accredited courses in the developing world. Many in edtech argue that throughput is less important that output and MOOCs should be primarily measured against the quality of educational outcomes with scale as a secondary consideration. Without consensus on what is considered a “meaningful outcome”, it is difficult to evaluate their effectiveness.

    Too few MOOCs collect and track data or indicators of learning outcome to compare their outcomes with those of other platforms, systems, or pedagogies but even in the absence of compelling data on their effectiveness, MOOCs continue to draw students from the developing world. With 11 million registered students and hundreds of course offerings from Ivy League and other prestigious institutions, US-based Coursera, for example, is the largest and arguably best-known MOOC platform. Typically there are no entry requirements and online course are free but official verification of completio