In 2018, about 258.4 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school, about one-sixth of the global population. Of this, the majority were African. Despite increased intervention by governments, NGOs and private individuals, sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest rates of education exclusion worldwide.
This, combined with an ever-increasing youth population, could soon spell disaster for the region.
There are many reasons for Africa’s high rate of education exclusion, but a major one remains the inaccessibility to quality education. For youth living in rural areas, where schools and learning centres are few and located in major cities far away from home, the struggle to get there every day could be very frustrating.
And when these youths overcome the multiple obstacles to enroll in a class, it is hardly a smooth ride going forward. From a shortage of experienced teachers to a lack of learning materials, teaching aids and suitable teaching areas (classrooms). Potential students may get discouraged before they begin learning.
Not only do youth face these problems, but older people who wish to begin school or continue their education are not left out. Their challenges are compounded by the fact that they must work while learning. Hence, it is not unusual to see individuals drop out after a few weeks of learning to focus on their occupations.
Technology solves this
The only way to solve an inaccessibility problem is to increase accessibility.
A few ways to do this include:
While these are reasonable solutions, they are not enough. For one, they may not still address the bias against girls, women and people with special needs. These methods also rely heavily on regional governments, and with decreasing government expenditure on education across the continent, that is not sustainable.
Thankfully, the deep penetration of the mobile industry into the African region has exposed the area to a myriad of new opportunities and sub-industries, one of which is: education via mobile technology.
Education via mobile technology can help enhance conventional schooling, providing access to education at all levels. It can also be tailored toward individuals, providing a unique experience to each individual.
As we’ve seen earlier, there are instances where traditional schooling models fail or are inadequate. However, this mix of conventional classrooms and mobile technology with improved accessibility and reduced costs can support or, in some cases, replace traditional learning.
Mobile technology can be used to deliver educational content. We will break these technologies down into two categories: offline and online.
Offline technologies are technologies used to deliver educational services without an internet connection. They are beneficial for individuals living in rural areas, areas that typically have poor internet connectivity.
These technologies are characterized by a low barrier of entry and are available to anyone with a mobile phone. Characteristics that combine to make it a great tool for delivering educational content to the marginalized. Edtech startups have leveraged these technologies. For example, Eneza, a pan-African startup and Chalkboard, a Ghanaian-based learning platform, provide access to the educational content of all levels via SMS, USSD. PrepClass, a Nigerian company that uses technology to connect professional tutors with learners, also uses IVR (Interactive Voice Response).
Online technologies are technologies used to deliver educational services over the internet, requiring an internet connection. They utilize mobile applications and websites where learners can view course content as videos or lecture notes, take assessments, and connect with teachers and other learners. Some include 24/7 chatbots to answer frequently asked questions or help students practise their skills. Langbot, an Ethiopian-based startup, uses a chatbot to aid language-learning among users.
Why choose one when you can have both?
A point to note is that potential learners do not have to choose between offline or online technologies. It is not an either-or situation. These different categories only cater to learners based on their needs, and startups looking to go into this space should focus on an omnichannel approach. According to a report by GSMA, most startups operating in Africa and the Asia Pacific today use offline and online mobile tools to deliver services to the largest possible audience.
Eneza, Chalkboard and PrepClass, all mentioned earlier, also provide mobile responsive websites and applications along with their USSD, SMS or IVR solutions.
A society cannot grow without education, which drove the pioneering African leaders to prioritize establishing schools and teaching colleges in major cities post-independence. However, inaccessibility remains a limiting factor for many Africans looking to learn.
As mobile networks reach farther into the continent and mobile devices become more ubiquitous, mobile technology services can be employed to help tackle this inaccessibility and inequality. And with a combination of both online and offline technologies, we can ensure that no one in Africa is without access to education.
A quick reminder that HollaTags provides easy-to-integrate APIs and platforms for SMS, USSD and Voice messaging. Connect with your customers on mobile using HollaTags.