Survey results released by eLearning Africa and EdTech Hub show that many African educators are optimistic about the future. They consider that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a "wake-up call" that will encourage greater use of blended learning and new forms of technology-enhanced education and training in African schools, colleges, and universities.
The survey, entitled "the Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education in Africa" is based on interviews with more than 1,600 education and technology professionals across the continent who were asked about their experiences with the COVID-19 crisis and its implications. 85% of respondents believe that the use of technology will be more widespread as a result of the crisis. This confirms a belief already on the African Union's agenda, namely, that technology is seen as the key to the rapid expansion of education and, therefore, to the continent's future economic growth.
"This context drives creativity, brings new ideas and opportunities and contributes to evolution"
Isso, a surveyed teacher in Burkina Faso, believes that the challenges of the current crisis will contribute precisely to creating real and lasting benefits later on: “As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a global challenge with no adequate solution, everyone is involved in the search for individual survival solutions. This context drives creativity, brings new ideas and opportunities, and contributes to evolution”.
Sissu, a Zimbabwean strategic planning expert, goes further. “This pandemic is an opportunity to set in motion a long-term evolution of the education system,” he says.
Widening digital divide and rising inequality
However, the survey also revealed great concern about the widening digital divide and increasing inequalities among learners due to inequitable access to technology. Respondents indicate that learners living in rural communities were most likely to be disadvantaged by inaccessibility to technology. They also believe that the issue of connectivity, particularly the inaccessibility of an available and affordable internet connection, is the biggest barrier to the development of more technology-enhanced learning.
Overall, respondents report school closures across Africa: while 95% report that all schools in their countries have been forced to close, 92% believe the closures were essential despite the negative consequences. However, the survey reveals that most educators received no financial support or tools to ensure continuity of teachings during the crisis, and they believe they were not sufficiently prepared to adapt to the demands of distance learning.
In addition, the survey highlights the effectiveness of various technologies at different levels, with television and radio seen as suitable at the primary level, while online learning is effective at the secondary level.
For Rebecca STROMEYER, CEO of eLearning Africa, the survey highlighted "a lot of evidence of ingenuity and innovation at all levels in several countries" in response to the crisis.
“The crisis has been a real challenge for Africa, but overall has not been as catastrophic as predicted. Africans used the available technologies to ensure continuity of teaching and learning. Lessons have been learned from this crisis and there is now more understanding of the importance of technology for education.”
As a reminder, eLearning Africa is a global network of professionals working in the field of ICT-supported education and training that meets, among other things, through an annual three-day international conference on ICT-enhanced education, training and skills development in Africa, organized by Integrated Communications, Worldwide Events (ICWE GmbH). Each year, the event is hosted and co-hosted by a different African government.
Focus on 3 "impactful solutions
The startup Etudesk, based in Abidjan, builds customized e-learning platforms with various partners. Today, Etudesk supports a dozen schools in Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal to adapt and put online their educational content in the best possible time and conditions.
Over the last 4 years, more than 400 organizations (SMEs, startups, corporates, government, international organizations) have used Etudesk's e-learning platform to train more than 50 000 people in 17 countries.
The Scientia platform in Gabon offers a solution for educational monitoring in times of lockdown and pandemic. It works as a mobile application accessible with a phone number and a password, which offers different interfaces according to each category of user (student, teacher, head teacher).
Scientia evaluates the quality of education and suggests improvements by processing the data recorded in the application. A multi-year follow-up allows detecting the shortcomings of each student. In addition to the school follow-up, children are also provided with new ways of learning.
To access the application, schools add 3,000 CFA francs to the monthly tuition fee per student, or 4.58 euros divided between the school and Scientia. The company has already registered several private school partners.
Centre for the Promotion of ICT
The Centre for the Promotion of ICT in Côte d'Ivoire (CPNTIC) has set up an online training system. Teachers have produced digital courses under the supervision of the inspectorate and the central departments of the Ministry of National Education and Technical and Vocational Training.
A call center was also set up to help learners use the platform. This innovative strategy has allowed learners to connect and download more than 800 online courses to continue their learning, with an average of 2,000 connections per day.
For students, a broadcasting system was set up with the support of the Virtual University of Abidjan Cocody, in addition to alternative teaching and learning programs offered by teachers via Microsoft Teams, coupled with sub-groups of in situ student cohort.