Education across Africa is seeing major progress. ID4D reports that in poorer countries like Niger and Burkina Faso, primary school enrollment rates have increased from 20% to 60% over the course of two decades. Other parts of the continent are seeing similar increases as high as 80%. While this is something to be celebrated, however, progress must not stop here. These enrollment rates can still grow, and the subsequent education still needs to be improved.
Oddly enough, the pandemic that has wrought so much misfortune around the world has also highlighted (and in some cases led to the introduction of) the innovation that African education needs. Many experts believe the benefits of online learning in particular can help alleviate the challenges many parts of the continent currently face with regard to education.
It relieves overburdened infrastructure
Africa's population is rising rapidly. The Economist reported in 2020 that the continent will hold at least 2.5 billion people — a quarter of the global population — by 2050. This is straining existing infrastructure for education. In Kenya's Turkana County for instance, one teacher has to teach 92 students on average. In some cases, schools relieve overcrowded classrooms by teaching outdoors or in tents. And even given these crowded situations, it remains difficult for many children to enroll at all.
Online learning can alleviate these problems by providing the option to study remotely. Last March, Kenya's ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched a digital learning programme to build computer labs and train teachers in online learning strategies. The programme also involves the distribution of electronics and solar power devices for homes without access to electricity or the internet. This is a complex and demanding initiative, but it does demonstrate some of the ways in which schools can accommodate more students –– and ultimately even lower overhead costs.
It improves learning outcomes
It's not uncommon for outdated curricula and low teacher effectiveness to impact the quality of education students receive. In Uganda for instance, more than half of primary school graduates are illiterate. This is despite the country having made education at this level free and universal in 1997. Issues like this are vital for schools to consider when implementing online learning as a viable alternative to traditional schooling.
Fortunately, the need to shift to remote education during the pandemic spurred the development of more effective online learning tools. And with the pandemic ongoing (albeit hopefully approaching end stages), more institutions are using these tools to bolster their remote learning options. Notably, Bridge Academy Uganda's @Home programme provides parent-friendly learning guides, scientifically-based self study packets, and even quizzes answerable via WhatsApp. Designed by educators trained in the latest teaching techniques, these are examples of tools that can improve learning outcomes by making lessons more engaging and accessible.
It makes learning more inclusive
Another major barrier to education is the class divide. Direct costs spent on tuition fees, clothes, and textbooks, as well as indirect costs like the distance from home to school, can all impact access to education. Additionally, and just like in so many other parts of the world, African schools struggle to accommodate students with learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD. Using the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), online learning bridges these gaps by allowing students to learn in their own way and at their own pace.
Educational psychologist Marcia Lyner-Cleophas of Stellenbosch University in South Africa explains that UDL allows educators to design curricula to be more inclusive. Children who learn by sight, sound, or hands-on experience can all be accommodated. Meanwhile, those with disabilities can learn without fear of judgment from peers, with tools like virtual scribes helping enhance the learning experience. Most importantly, remote learning makes education more financially accessible by eliminating costs spent on commutes, uniforms, textbooks, and the use of school facilities.
Online learning is the change Africa needs to face common issues in education, and it can do more than just improve learning effectiveness. By honing students’ technological know-how, online learning can help them jumpstart their careers in an increasingly digital era — one that we here at Talenteum believe will define the future of work.