8 March 2017

Africa: EdTech - A Growth Area for Africa

analysis

Neuried — A new educational frontier for Africa

EdTech is the use of digital education technology to facilitate teaching and learning. It's a rapidly expanding sector with enormous potential. Providers around the world are now incorporating education technology into their delivery strategies. The development of mobile technology such as tablets and smartphones offers great opportunities for anywhere, anytime learning. E-learning, mlearning (mobile learning) and online courses have particular potential in areas where access to more traditional forms of education is restricted or non-existent. Edtech is one of the relatively new applications which use the new internet and mobile phone based technologies to improve the access to some basic needs or skills, such as mhealth, app based language learning or cheap online money transfers.

A growth area for Africa

With the possibilities it offers for distance and independent learning, EdTech has specific relevance for the continent of Africa, where it's becoming one of the biggest and most important developing educational markets. A pressing need for high level skills is leading to a rising demand for higher education in a part of the world where traditional education models are not always appropriate. Using education technology in teaching and learning is a way of thinking differently and increasing opportunity. Some figures to underline this:

128 million school-aged children in Africa, but 17 million will never attend school

Average age of the African population are 19,5 years, this means a really young "continent"

60 percent of the population lives in rural areas, far away of higher education centers

A flexible approach to learning

One of the major strengths of EdTech is that it can be tailored to meet the different needs of learners. It can be used to augment and enrich teaching and learning in a classroom setting. Perhaps its most powerful application, however, is in opening up new areas outside the classroom by facilitating distance and independent learning via online courses. Students can have the convenience of on demand resources combined with the support of a tutor. Digital connectivity can provide the collegiality of a learning group, but students can also learn alone at a time that suits them. Education technology also enables the exploration of fresh approaches to enhance learning, such as learning through games (gamification).

Edtech Key terms

EdTech is a dynamic, ever-evolving area that is not always talked about in the clearest possible language. Discussion can be poorly informed and confusing with words and phrases used imprecisely and interchangeably. In addition to discussing some of the benefits of education technology, this article aims to offer some clarity by highlighting and explaining some key terms and abbreviations.

E-learning

This is a commonly used abbreviation for 'electronic learning' and means the use of computer technology to deliver programs of study either in whole or in part. This might be by standalone packages or, increasingly frequently, though online courses where resources and tuition are accessed via the internet. E-learning is a way of expanding opportunities for learning beyond traditional settings using digital technology such as PCs, laptops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones.

Mobile learning

As digital technology becomes increasingly portable, mobile learning, often referred to as m-learning or mlearning, is emerging as a key element of e-learning strategies. M-learning means that a student is not tied to a particular place and can learn wherever they are. In an African context, m-learning is a means of reaching potential students, for example by their mobile phone, in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. This might be by a distance learning course hosted by a university or other institution or through independent study.

MOOCs

Massive open online courses, commonly abbreviated to MOOCs, are courses made available for free over the internet to large numbers of people. MOOCs give learners access to a whole range of resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them. They also connect students to expert tuition, wherever they are. As a means of providing large scale distance learning for geographically dispersed students, they have great potential in Africa as part of a mobile learning strategy. M-learning is a rapidly evolving market in education in general and in Africa in particular. Students can learn via their mobile phones or other portable devices anywhere and anytime. As mobile and e-learning is independent of geography, it does not need the traditional infrastructure of schools, classrooms and libraries. This means that development steps can be leapfrogged and gaps in skills and training can be filled more quickly. There is a rising amount of local and regional companies which provide products and materials for online courses and exam preparations, the classical fields of m-learning. This African providers guide illustrates a list of edtech startups in several countries.

Jens Ischebeck is at Apps for Learning, the e-learning and online courses specialist.

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