How Internet Inequity is affecting Learning Outcomes in Africa
Across the world, there are different ways in which technological advancement has been received. In some countries, it has inspired innovation and economic growth while others have struggled to find their place amidst the fast-paced nature of the information revolution.
The COVID-19 pandemic further lent credence to the state of preparedness of each nation as exemplified by the urgency of elearning adaptation across the world. Despite the critical nature of this shift in learning methodology, several countries have instead suffered setbacks in their educational systems.
Based on reports by UNESCO, “about 90 percent of students in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to household computers, and 82 percent lack internet access.” This experience differs in more developed countries which have experienced a decline in their digital access divide due to efforts from policymakers, educators, and entrepreneurs who desire to lead the digital revolution.
In Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and South Korea, a set of policy initiatives were targeted at the promotion of e-literacy and digital skills in secondary and tertiary education.
Despite efforts shown by less developed countries within Africa, digital learning has been unsustainable due to the lack of resources and a growing inequity of internet access.
To further explain this quagmire, Gugu Ndebele, the Executive Director of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, stated that “Digital transformation requires infrastructure, which unfortunately is not available in poor communities whose only struggle is for survival.”
In actual fact, the transition to online teaching was somewhat smoother and less demanding in developed countries than in developing countries because of the presence of pre-existing infrastructure and funding to facilitate the process.
Interestingly, infrastructure is not the only bone of contention in Africa. During the pandemic lockdown, some students were unable to attend classes due to their lack of mobile devices or financial means to purchase internet data.
Another continent-based issue is that of social trust and social order. Confidence in the delivery of online education and society’s interaction with it can either support or undermine the whole process of online education. Countries in Africa that consist of citizens who have not adapted to an online learning culture have displayed teething problems in how they approach learning engagements online.
What is the way forward?
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), more than a quarter of the total African population had access to the Internet as of 2016, the majority of which are potential internet learners. Also, there is a continuous increase in the number of Africans that have access to mobile phones. The data above provides a basis for the much-needed investment in this sector of Africa’s system.
To fully integrate internet access across educational institutions in Africa, there needs to be a clear and strategic plan of action concerning the development of infrastructure in terms of equipment, broadband connectivity, technical support, and learning resources. There has to be a joint effort between connectivity providers and the government to address the issue of connectivity.
Furthermore, content providers must work with internet service providers to find solutions that tackle the affordability of data on their platforms. Organizations like LearnAm and Slum2School have partnered with providers such as Airtel and MTN to supply discounted internet services to their users.
In order to ensure that Africa is not left behind, online education organizations need to develop partnerships with public schools to accelerate their adaptation to the online learning culture. These organizations need to also continue to curate curricula that are relevant to the future of work.
For example, BMGA Enterprise Limited (BMGA), a finishing school for the future of work, launched the BMGA Fellows Program which is an online learning experience designed to narrow the skills gap that exists amongst university students and graduates. The entirety of the six months program was deployed online via an e-learning platform and the use of other modern technological tools.
To ensure that the objective of democratizating high-quality education was achieved, BMGA partnered with experts from local and global universities such as the University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, Thunderbird School of Global Management, University of Cambridge, and Yale University for the deployment of the online experience.
Finally, policies regarding access to digital technology infrastructure need to be revised to ensure that they support the development of digitally skilled individuals across the continent. For example, in Ghana, taxes on computers and computer parts have been waived to enable easy purchase of these equipment in their tertiary institutions.
Gbemisola (Gbemi) Abudu is the Founder & Managing Partner of BMGA, a finishing school for the future of work. She is a global marketing expert who specialises in transformational impact, human capital, and luxury