BusinessDay

Increasing mobile device ownership drives online learning in Africa – uLesson report

Increasing mobile and digital device ownership is accelerating online learning in Africa, a new report by uLesson – a leading African edtech company has said.

The report – based on internal data and a survey answered by over 750 uLesson learners in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and other African countries – provides insights into the impact of technology on education and learners’ behavioral patterns for both parents and stakeholders in the education sector.

According to the report, technology is changing the game in education across the continent, saying it was less common to see students learning online using a phone or other digital devices pre-pandemics.

“Following the global lockdowns in response to the pandemic, many schools including public ones sought digital channels to help children continue learning at home,” the report said.

“While the pandemic accelerated the acceptance of online learning by African families, the continued growth of edtech platforms suggests that the shift also results from systemic issues.”

“Online learning complements classroom instruction, allowing learners to learn at their own pace and study for critical exams. Given the uncertainty over future school closures, parents are investing in handsets for their children to support learning.”

The report found that over half of uLesson learners (52percent) are using the app on their mobile phones. Handsets for children appear to no longer be a “nice to have”, but a critical tool for modern education.

Falling internet costs have enabled the emergence of edtech in Africa. While internet costs have remained high in some African countries, like Uganda, they have fallen in West Africa. In Ghana and Nigeria, average mobile broadband costs represent less than 2percent of average monthly income which is the A4AI’s definition of affordable internet.

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This means that video streaming is more affordable than ever before. To provide accessible content to learners, African edtech platforms compress videos to be as small as possible. uLesson claims a month of streaming lessons consisting of 54 pre-recorded and 14 live lessons consume less than 4GB of data. With all major service providers in Nigeria, this costs less than N2,000.

STEM topics are still the most popular subjects among learners. More than a quarter of watched videos (26percent) from the uLesson content library were for mathematics across all grade levels. Of all video plays, STEM subjects accounted for 76percent, while English has the highest non-STEM topic with 20percent.

In the personalized homework help feature – where learners are connected to a tutor to help with assignments – more than half of the requests were for mathematics. Despite all the careers that have emerged in the last decade, most learners still want to pursue science-related careers. When asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, over 40 percent of learners wanted to pursue medicine, indicating continued demand for medical professions in Africa.

However, the report highlights that there is still a long way to go for edtech in Africa. More infrastructures are needed to make edtech readily available to more children.

Edtech will never replace traditional schooling; rather, it will be a complimentary resource for personalized learning.

Over 75percent of the students surveyed use uLesson to learn about subjects before they are taught in schools, indicating that a greater ability to follow the pace of the classroom is a major motivator. Another one is external exams like WAEC and JAMB, with over a third of learners using the platform’s test prep to access past questions from such exams.

This also includes learners who have completed secondary school and are studying to retake such exams.

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