World leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Kofi Annan, have stressed that education liberates and empowers; and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being has a right to a free and quality education. Education, in fact, is fundamental to the promotion of understanding between peoples and respect for one another’s freedoms. If we want to make the world a better place, education is the best investment we can make.
Making this ideal a reality is, of course, incredibly difficult. Around the world, there are millions of young people who do not have fair access to education. According to the World Economic Forum, “59 million children and 65 million adolescents are out of school” and “more than 120 million children do not complete primary education.”
Increasingly, educators, NGOs and entrepreneurs are looking to technology to address this problem. And one place where this has definitely taken off is in Africa, where mobile technology has been adopted widely – a GSMA report in 2016 concluded that over half a billion people in Africa are on a mobile network. Operators and developers see this market penetration as a gateway to providing a host of essential services, including finance, healthcare and education, to urban and rural communities.
As well as access, the benefits of utilizing mobile technology for education include flexibility and cost-effectiveness. However, many NGO workers on the ground stress the need for contextual awareness, since hardware-driven initiatives have not always proved helpful. While access to hardware is, of course, essential, it’s also important to consider the following:
This may seem daunting but in fact there are many projects springing up all over the continent that address these challenges and are paving the way for an innovative and exciting future for education in Africa. Here are some of our favourites:
Based in Nairobi, BRCK is a team of software developers, engineers and technologists working on connectivity solutions that address local infrastructure needs. One of their key areas of interest is education and they have created a device that provides hardware, software and connectivity in one unit, the Kio Kit, which, as they say, “instantly turns any school room into a digital classroom.”
The kit comes with 40 bespoke tablets, in a durable and lockable case with only a single outlet needed to charge the entire kit. It also comes with the patented SupaBRCK which provides connectivity so that curriculum materials can be loaded onto the tablets, which are then used by students offline to prevent them looking at non-educational content. The kit is designed to work effectively on intermittent power supply and with low latency internet connections.
Another Kenya-based start-up, Eneza is a mobile educational source that has taken advantage of the educational potential of the widespread use of mobile phones in the country. A mission-based, for-profit company, Eneza aims to make education affordable and accessible to people living in rural areas. As described by its cofounder, “Eneza is a virtual tutor and teachers’ assistant… it’s a way for students to access courses through a low-cost cell phone.”
Eneza offers a wide range of curated content and a variety of courses including curriculum-aligned subjects such as maths, English, science and Kiswahili. However, Eneza is not aimed solely at school pupils. It also provides courses for adult learners, teacher training and businesses, with features including quizzes, games, live interaction and “Ask-a-Teacher”.
Based on a belief in the crucial importance of access to books for education, eKitabu is an e-book provider whose stated aim is “to lower the cost of books for education and increase access to them—sustainably and at large scale.” With a digital library of over 500,000 titles from educational publishers, eKitabu has “lowered the cost of delivering books for education in local languages by over 50%” and has “brought digital content to over 650 schools across Sub-Saharan Africa”. eKitabu also collaborates with other organizations on projects such as training teachers on how best to integrate ebooks into their teaching.
African Virtual University (AVU) is “a Pan African Intergovernmental Organization established by charter with the mandate of significantly increasing access to quality higher education and training through the innovative use of information communication technologies.” Initiated as a World Bank project to train scientists, business managers and engineers in Africa by providing students with low-cost access to international university education, AVU is now an autonomous institution. AVU connects students across Africa with international universities; students can then work entirely online for their degrees, through apps such as Skype as well as webinars, virtual classrooms, self-directed courses and live events.
The current generation of digital natives want to make the world a better place – a wish that is reflected in their lifestyle choices, including the career paths they follow. The potential for developing technologies and virtual learning to transform educational attainment globally is huge. If education can change the world, then the technological abilities of today’s students promise revolution. Exciting work is being done – your students could be part of it.
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