Digital technologyʼs role in education in sub-Saharan Africa

21st July 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Digital technologies and connectivity can play a critical role in improving African educational systems, but only if the right support mechanisms and policies are in place, research by Vodacom Group, Vodafone and Safaricom, in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, has found.

By leveraging digital technologies, new opportunities can be opened up for African youth to learn and for teachers to connect with students in the most remote rural communities.

The research paper, titled ‘How digital technologies can transform education in sub-Saharan Africa’, highlighted that, over the past five decades, there has been an increase in access to education across Africa and, by 2010, 68% of African children had completed primary school and 40% lower secondary school.

The number of students in higher education also increased rapidly, as did literacy rates among adults and, by 2023, more than 80% of African children were enrolled in primary schools.

However, the increase in access is not necessarily translating into a rise in the quality of education, with the report pointing out that, on almost every indicator of progress, there are signs of stagnation, even regression, in African education.

Currently, about 97.5-million African children, from primary school age to secondary school age, do not attend school. This is higher than in any other region in the world.

The learning poverty rate, which the report described as the inability to read and understand a simple text by age 10, for sub- Saharan Africa is 86%, compared with 13% in Europe and Central Asia and less than 60% for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The completion rates show that the longer African children stay in school, the higher the probability that they will drop out, with completion rates declining to 65% in primary school, 41% in lower secondary and only 23% in upper secondary school.

Further, while the Covid-19 pandemic led to a renewed focus on digital transformation in education, already vulnerable school systems across Africa were significantly impacted on in the period up to January 2021, with an average of 23 weeks of partial and complete closures of schools throughout the continent, which caused massive losses in learning time and a decline in learning outcomes.

According to the report, addressing the education crisis in Africa requires focus on three areas, namely ensuring children are attending school, supporting them to finish their education and making sure that they are competent in education basics, such as literacy and numeracy.

The proliferation of digital devices and mobile network expansion in sub-Saharan Africa should make digital education more readily available to teachers and students in Africa; however, many barriers remain in digital education success, including unreliable electricity, limited connectivity and technical support, affordability, restrictive social norms and political instability.

Education expert and one of the authors of the research paper Professor Jonathan Jansen said that, with the right policies, infrastructure and investments in place, digitalisation can provide new opportunities for Africa’s youth, unlocking a more equitable, sustainable and connected future.

“Each of these hurdles can be overcome through the right partnerships, interventions and ecosystems. Importantly, addressing these obstacles demands political buy-in and support from governments to ensure that the mechanisms put in place are appropriate in that they meet African learners and educators where they are,” he continued.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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