• Monday, April 22, 2024
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Leveraging EdTech investments to develop resilient hybrid learning solutions

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Successful Educational Technology (EdTech) startups in Africa such as; uLesson, Mosabi, Edukoya, Kidato and Arifu, reflect the role EdTech investments play, in the development of hybrid learning solutions in Africa’s digital learning space. Some of them rely on hybrid learning solutions to meet the learning needs of a very complex market. Their impact is overwhelmingly positive and derivative, from the mountain of challenges they have had to face to operate.

EdTech investment portfolios act as financial engineers, creative spots and funding vehicles for learning ecosystems. In Africa, such infusion of capital has become pivotal in the development of both social-good enterprises and smart startups in upskilling and training. This is done by outright stake acquisitions or strategic partnerships that subsidize training and development platforms, geared to build, sustain and grow eventual self-driven brand entities that then deploy new skills and knowledge to learn at scale. Some argue, that EdTech investments in education may be key to bridging the divide and reaching the underserved population.

For a world that depends on change and adaptation for survival, learning is the only part of change that remains constant across all phases of our human experience. Learning needs are imperative and dynamic for every modern society. They are simple necessities that possess very complex processes, at the same time. Without learning change cannot be possible and without change learning is ineffective.

In its most unique and practical usage ‘learning solution’ is the general term used to describe a blend of different learning channels both online and offline. Traditional classrooms are giving way to self-paced, on demand learning solutions. In hybrid learning environments, students can attend physical classes or opt for virtual training. This has implications for educators who enjoy the flexibility of teaching in traditional classrooms or remotely. In the past where ‘one teacher’ could only teach a class of 25 students at a time, with technology this ‘one teacher’ can potentially reach millions of people through their technological devices at the same time. Ushering a world, of new learning possibilities and challenges around exclusion.

Seeing the problem better:

To develop a resilient hybrid learning solution is to deliver a sustainable long-term model of learning that improves the achievement of learning goals and raises the quality of new knowledge or skills significantly. While at the same time ticking up positive indices in other key aims and objectives of education planning. In Africa and other developing economies there are some challenges that hinder the ability of member countries to develop and sustain hybrid learning solutions:

1. Poor access to the internet/connectivity and availability of digitized local curriculum and content. Only about 24% of the African population of 1.4 billion people have access to the internet, and of this only, 0.4% have access to fixed broadband. According to UNICEF, Africa leads the world in the percentage of the population without internet connection at an outstanding 88 per cent. This has far-reached implications for those looking to expand the Edtech space and promote learning at scale. However, among those that do have access, 70% do so on mobile devices, signaling opportunities in the social media learning space and the need for localized micro learning content.

2. Digital literacy and the digital divide across Africa. Digital literacy can be defined as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills”. To be able to enjoy the benefits of EDTech investments, there is an urgent need to close the digital literacy gaps, across all levels of education. While some African countries like Kenya, have added coding to their primary and secondary school curricula, there is still more work to be done.

3. Funding gaps for education. Building resilience in any human endeavour is not a short-term project. It requires shifting paradigms in thinking among large populations and, before that, creating the urge and willpower among the people to see the need for new ways of doing things. Due to this reality, the effort requires stretching resources and available funds over a long period, which developing nations have consistently failed to do, especially in the education sector. In 2022 Nigeria budgeted N923.79 billion from a total budget of N17.13 trillion. Though this education budget represents an increase from the previous year it was still 5.4% of the national budget, a far cry from UNESCO’s recommendation of a 25% budgetary allocation to public education development.

4. Endemic corruption in public service within the educational sector. Most governments in Africa have the potential to finance development plans to build hybrid learning infrastructure and improve digital access in poor underserved communities. However, national budgets usually get siphoned off to private usage, leaving the sector grossly malnourished and under-funded. There is an urgent need to strengthen public service institutions through capacity building. Whilst EdTech investments are largely private sector driven, Government must create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. In Nigeria for example, the Edo State Government has set up a digital public service academy to upskill and retool the Civil and Public service.

What all this means is that ‘Africa still has a long way to go’ in bridging the gap between its poor state of learning infrastructure and developing resilient hybrid learning solutions to power its versatile entrepreneurial ecosystem, according to a World Economic Forum white paper release. To meet its training and skill acquisition needs in hybrid environments a lot more needs to be done to contain the challenges posed to progress in the sector.

Welcoming potential solutions:

There are approximately 1.4 billion people living in Africa, out of which 1.2 billion are in sub–Saharan Africa. As of 2022 40% of the African population are under 15, against a global average of 25%. By 2030 it is projected that young Africans will constitute 42% of global youth. These numbers show that the digital space remains the continent’s most prospective asset in creating inclusive educational systems and sustainable hybrid learning solutions for the education sector. Done correctly, the African market could be the most viable Edtech investment destination.

With over 70% of internet access in Africa couched on mobile devices it is needless to say that the deployment of low-tech initiatives will be key in developing both content and curriculum within the barriers of local socio-linguistic versatility. Content comprehension and its unique presentation forms should be key in decision-making geared towards curriculum development. Acclimatizing local content in the digital space through understanding the basic principles of each language environment and its challenges will go a long way in achieving hybrid learning objectives. There is no reason why we should train blue collar workers in Nigeria on their mobile phones in Pidgin English for example.

Read also: Local governments and management of primary education fund

Internet access itself must be made more of part of national key infrastructure development plans and sub-national governments need to present strong partnership incentives that will encourage strategic development partnerships with the potential for being plugged into the global funding pool. According to a world economic forum white paper ‘to promote an entrepreneurial ecosystem and build resilience; educational, development and social-good organizations must connect local, regional and global entities, with each organization bringing its unique expertise.’ A key area of expertise needed in African e-learning development plans is building resiliency into the public service. Politics is often volatile in Africa and the ensuing effect means instability and insecurity. Political stability therefore must also be perceived as a key factor in deciding investment targets. Upskilling and retooling Civil and Public Servants on the use of digital technologies, will have positive multiplier effects.

The look ahead:

By 2021 EdTech investments in Africa topped $20m, cumulative from 2019. But this dims to a global net investment of 18.6 billion dollars just in 2019. Over 200 EdTech startups operate keenly in Africa. With this solid inflow of capital coming to impact a young population hungry for digital learning, training, re-skilling and upskilling there is no doubt that EdTech is poised to play a pivotal role in African development in the foreseeable future. Social media is a great low-tech tool that can be leveraged to learn at scale. Think WhatsApp and Telegram classes as well as TikTok online schools. Why not?

Stable power supply, political stability, internet access and digitized-localized content remain one of the key factors in bridging the existing learning gaps. African Edtech startups must also become policy entrepreneurs who can contribute to the discourse and get Governments across all levels to act. In addition, Governments must create policies that would drive digital penetration and literacy, as-well-as focused resource mobilization towards digital technologies. To do more is simply to invite greater results.

Ajoonu is managing director, John Odigie-Oyegun Public Service Academy, in Edo State, Nigeria.