Chapter 3

Scaling Up to Meet the Enormous Education Challenges in Africa

Omobola Johnson, Leslie Maasdorp and Colin McElwee

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the youngest and fastest growing population across the globe. About one-third of the population, or nearly 300 million people, are aged between 10 and 24 years old and this group is expected to nearly double in size to 561 million people by 2050. 1 This “youth bulge” offers the region a major economic opportunity – often referred to as a “demographic dividend” – because a larger workforce will mean a more productive economy on a per capita basis and more of what is produced can be reinvested in productive resources.

However, this demographic gift is not an automatic one. It will only be realized if the youth are productively employed. And today’s youth, let alone tomorrow’s youth, are already facing a bleak jobs picture – on top of those unemployed, the World Bank notes that millions of youth are working either in very low quality jobs or in a situation where they are neither studying, nor working, nor looking for a job.2 Moreover, SSA’s human capital is lagging behind other regions. The 2013 World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, which ranks countries relative economic performance, shows that most SSA countries fall in the lower rungs of this global Index. SSA scores poorly even when compared with other lower-middle- income economies, on health, education and enabling environments. Only in the area of workforce and employment does the region match the average for this group of economies.

Against this backdrop, education in its broadest sense – from primary through secondary and tertiary and professional skills and training – is increasingly considered the multifocused lever that can drive the region forward. Over the past decade, school enrolment has improved across SSA, especially with the introduction of universal primary education. However the drop off is enormous at the secondary and tertiary levels, with girls especially lagging (see Table 1). In addition, UNESCO reports that 303 million children in SSA are not even in school, which is more than one-half of the world’s out-of-school children.

The major challenge now is to continue to improve enrolments, especially in secondary, while also improving the quality of education. Too many young people are leaving school without the basic foundational skills, such as literacy
– only 57% for adults and 69% for youth (age 15–24)4 – that they increasingly need to enter the work place. Without these skills they will find it difficult to develop the other higher-level and more transferable skills relevant for remaining in work over the long term. A big obstacle is a shortage of trained teachers as well as the lack of textbooks and materials. Also, there are so many varied stakeholders whose approval is needed before new practices can be implemented that any meaningful initiative can be easily diluted or shunted aside completely.

What is needed are new, innovative models of education that can be rapidly scaled up. Some are beginning to emerge, often involving the entry of the private sector in education and the use of appropriate technology in and out of the classroom. However, when it comes to technology, a fundamental and often underrated break on advances is the concept of “fit” or what has become known as “appropriate technology”. The main fear of many teachers is that new technology may not only supplant their services but also that students will embrace and better understand technology, thus undermining the teacher’s authority. As the teacher is the gatekeeper to the classroom, it is key that teachers feel enabled and not weakened by the introduction of new electronic mediums. A potential win–win for teachers and students can easily end up in an opportunity lost for all if the needs of the teachers are not embraced.

This chapter explores three cases that demonstrate exemplary practices and the potential for having a real impact. Each one takes a different approach to SSA’s educational challenges.

  • The first case looks at how Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is trying to bring education innovations to scale. It focuses on the potential of information and computing technology (ICT) to offer a new education model, anchored by cooperation among all stakeholders.
  • The second case, the Africa Leadership Academy in South Africa, features the philosophy of making a small surgical intervention into where the impact on society could be the greatest. The idea is to leverage and develop the leadership talents of a small number of individuals, who can then become catalysts for others.
  • The third case, Worldreader, takes almost the opposite approach. It asks: How do you educate the largest amount of children and young people using the least amount of incremental investment in technology and infrastructure? This initiative believes in utilizing existing connectivity, digital files and simple reading devices to make the biggest impact in primary and secondary education.

There is rarely any one correct answer or approach and we offer no conclusive evidence of one intervention being better than another. But we hope that these cases deliver insights into the potential for managing the educational challenge over time in a singularly African context. Certainly, technology plays a vital role in educational solutions. But the real opportunity for success lies in the fact that the social need is so great – and the consequences of inaction so dire – that the resistance to experimentation is perhaps less in SSA than in other parts of the world. And it is this need to scale up quickly to meet the demands of the region’s growing population that will largely shape which innovations are adopted.

Case Study 1: Bringing Educational Innovations to Scale in Nigeria

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and its third largest economy. It is also home to a huge youth population
– 42% is under 15 years of age6 – whose share is growing rapidly and expected to number 185 million by 2050. These figures suggest the magnitude of investment needed in education, especially education that is of a high quality and relevant to the needs and aspirations of the country. They also suggest the importance of enabling the country to be an economic powerhouse for the rest of the continent.

Yet the strain on the country’s limited resources is seen across all educational levels. Nigeria accounts for a third of the estimated number of children (of primary school age) that are not attending school in SSA. Furthermore, many of the children enrolled are beyond the official age for the level of education they are receiving. At the tertiary level, of the over 1 million applications received each year, Nigerian universities have the capacity to admit only 20%. Nigeria needs many more teachers; existing ones are unevenly distributed across the country, poorly paid and poorly trained. Students are also taught a curriculum that is often said to be out of date and insufficient to provide ‘‘graduates’’ with the skills they require to be ‘job ready’.

Against this backdrop, traditional approaches to education delivery – which focus on teacher-led instruction (using curriculum that does not address the skill requirements of employees) within physical classrooms – can no longer meet the challenges faced by the nation’s educational sector. Thus, not surprisingly, there is enormous interest in the potential of ICT to mitigate these challenges by facilitating content delivery, quality improvements and a transformation in education delivery.

ICTs in Education in Nigeria

What are the prerequisites for effectively applying ICTs to socio-economic needs? The key ones include: (a) the accessibility of devices and affordability of connectivity; (b) the availability of relevant content; and (c) teacher adoption of the materials.

Delivering Access to Devices and Affordable Connectivity

Although the mobile cellular market in Nigeria has been growing quite rapidly, about 50% of rural areas still lack coverage. Furthermore, end-user devices remain prohibitively expensive to low- income and poor members of the population. Two major efforts are under way to improve the situation.

A key public sector initiative addressing challenges of connectivity and access to devices in the educational sector is the Universal Service Provision Fund’s (USPF) School Access Programme (SAP). The USPF was conceived in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 as a mecha- nism for providing access to ICTs in unserved and underserved communities to help bridge the digital divide. Telecom- munications operators in the country pay up to 2.5% of their income to the Nigerian Communications Commission as an annual operating levy, with 40% of this go- ing into the USPF. The SAP provides ICT equipment, broadband connectivity and educational content in public schools across Nigeria. By the end of 2012, 1,335 public schools had been connected, with about 670,000 students benefiting.

The DigiNet programme – a collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Education’s Education Trust Fund (ETF) and SchoolNet Nigeria, a not-for-profit entity – focuses on the creation of computer labs and community education resource centres (CERC). Since 2002, the programme has built computer labs in 83 schools and established five CERCs. Each of these facilities was equipped with 21 computers, a server, Internet access via satellite and alternative (back-up) power supply. Curriculum-based content was also available, along with a teacher development programme. In recent years, the DigiNet programme has expanded to include private sector entities. As a result of a partnership with the largest mobile network operator in the country, MTN Nigeria, there are now computer labs in another 62 schools (branded as the MTN Schools Connect project). The DigiNet programme also receives support from Intel and Microsoft in deploying the teacher development component.

Together, these two programmes have helped address challenges in connectivity and access to devices in about 1,500 schools. But with about 59,000 primary and 11,500 junior secondary public schools7 across the country and over 28 million children attending these schools, scaling up these initiatives to achieve a meaningful impact remains an elusive objective.

Making Relevant Content Available in Accessible Formats

Numerous efforts are also under way to improve access to educational content in formats that are engaging and help students attain set educational targets. Some of them have resulted in the digitization of the national curriculum, the online provision of past papers of national examinations, the development of multimedia tutorials and exam preparation applications, as well as digital access to thousands of textbooks (ebooks). One example is a computer application developed by Cinfores Limited, a private sector organization, called BrainFriend – an e-learning and examination preparatory software covering the Nigerian examination curriculum in 42 subjects for all levels of primary and secondary education. The solution through various partnerships is being deployed directly by up to four state governments and will indirectly be deployed in schools across the entire country through a recent partnership with the USPF’s School Access Programme.

Increasing Adoption and Appropriation of ICTs by Teachers

Any effort to drive the technology agenda in addressing the education and skills gap or to improve students and schools performance requires high-quality capacity building, support programmes and resources for education professionals, especially teachers. One example is DSTV Multichoice Resource Centres, a private sector project that focuses on content creation and the promotion of ownership of ICT-enabled learning among teachers. Another example is iEarn Nigeria, which pulls together a global community of teachers and youth that use the Internet and ICTs to learn and collaborate on educational projects (see Box 1).

Both of these initiatives have recorded some measure of success. However, the impact such successes are having on the overall attainment of the nation’s educational objectives is as yet unknown. This is for various reasons, including difficulties encountered in bringing these initiatives to an appreciable scale (given the sheer size of the country) and the lack of an agreed framework that clearly identifies what constitutes impact.

Box 1: Encouraging Teachers to Adopt ICTs in Nigeria

DSTV Multichoice Resource Centres. This is a solely private sector project championed by the satellite television provider Multichoice Nigeria, which was launched in 2004 and has been deployed in over 150 schools. It provides an educational bouquet of satellite TV programming to schools as well as the audio-visual equipment to access the content. It also trains teachers. The innovation here is in the class preparation process, which requires teachers to preview programmes and identify areas they can use to teach particular concepts. For example, a teacher finds a clip on volcanoes or snow storms, records and stores it. These individual repositories are building blocks in developing a library of learning objects that complement the traditional curriculum. In this manner, thousands of hours of learning content have been produced by local teachers for use in public schools. This compilation and sharing of learning objects or clips, strictly for use in schools, is a unique example of content creation and promotes ownership of ICT-enabled learning among teachers.

iEARN Nigeria. This is the Nigerian chapter of a global community of teachers and youth that use the Internet and ICTs to learn and collaborate on educational projects. It builds on the class preparation process encouraged by initiatives such as the DSTV Multichoice Resource Centres by helping teachers structure learning around projects. For example, a teacher may join a project called “medicines in our backyard”. She would encourage students to research common medicinal plants, list the local and scientific names, classify them, identify their various uses and share with other students worldwide. She would also describe set objectives and organize students in teams. The entire project would be completed using technology tools or programmes (like spreadsheets, word processing, presentations and multimedia). This approach is aimed at attaining various objectives, including: (a) learning subjects as specified in the national curriculum; (b) higher levels of understanding of content; and (c) greater proficiency (both teacher and student) in using ICTs.

Scaling Up for Impact

So what can be done to increase impact in the deployment of ICTs for educational purposes? We would like to propose a menu of possibilities that involve all stakeholders.

Teacher development. Many programmes identify the critical role that teachers play in technology deployments, yet they continue to spend on average less than 5% of their total investment in building the capacity of teachers to effectively make use of technology, rather than just operate it. That said, there is an increasing understanding that capacity-building efforts must now include rich, engaging activities that are professionally rewarding and support the teacher’s ability to occupy new roles dictated by the information age. Moreover, with many information sources to choose from, students now look to teachers to play the role of facilitators, directing the understanding and use of information to meet a set of needs and expected outcomes. This is especially important given that businesses now demand such critical thinking.

However, adopting the role of facilitator requires a major shift in thinking and behaviour and is often initially resisted by teachers. If the potential of technology to address the skills and education gaps in Nigeria is to be harnessed, there is an urgent need to support teachers at a scale that impacts learning in every classroom. Lessons from various pilot projects suggest that teachers need innovative and exciting ways to help them effectively assume their role of facilitator and use technology while still delivering on curriculum expectations. This can be done via a mix of online and offline professional development opportunities and ongoing engagement with communities of educators.

Relevant content. The importance of digitizing and distributing the national curriculum (like examination papers) cannot be overemphasised. However, the real opportunity in ICTs for education lies in providing content in a manner that reinforces what is being taught in the classroom – thereby helping to improve and extend acess beyond the physical location of the classroom.

Public–private partnerships (PPPs). The high costs involved in deploying ICTs in education projects require innovative PPPs that can support or leverage the government’s limited resources. Attempts at scaling up pilot projects have met with several challenges, including: (a) absence of an appropriate management model and a well-defined role for the government; (b) lack of infrastructure, especially power and broadband Internet connectivity; (c) lack of a predictable and supportive policy environment; (d) use of inappropriate and unaffordable technologies that cannot be adopted nationwide; and (e) absence of a viable PPP model.

Thus, a neutral agenda needs to be crafted for conceptualizing and implementing ICTs in education projects. Such an agenda, instigated by the government, should develop an agreed roadmap for addressing the skills and education gaps that have been identified and articulate in measurable terms the expected long-term impact. The agenda should show how each stakeholder could complement the project and add to the attainment of the “big picture”, while providing opportunities for contributors to have some “bragging rights”.

For government, the resulting partnership facilitates pooling the expertise and experiences of committed organizations and bringing them to bear on the nation’s educational goals. For the private sector, the structured framework facilitates clearly identifying the impact of social or business investments. Lastly, it is hoped that such partnerships would lead to informed decisions on directing scarce resources to urgent areas of need and reduce wastage of resources caused by the duplication of efforts.

Measuring impact. Implementing a partnership framework must be accompanied by the establishment of agreed-to metrics for measuring impact, as well as strategies for making such measurements and publicizing them. To be clear, these metrics represent what application of ICTs in education are anticipated to achieve and may include tracking improvements in access to formal education (such as number of out-of-school children or number of girls enrolled in formal education) as well as improvements in performance in national examinations. The metrics may also include those that track the skills of teachers and quality of teaching, as well as the overall suitability of students to function in the business world.

Case Study 2: African Leadership Academy (ALA) – Grooming Leaders in South Africa

Will a new generation of African leaders emerge to follow in the footsteps and example of Nelson Mandela?

After a long period of colonialism, the African continent has produced numerous despotic rulers. With a few notable exceptions, the leadership track record of SSA has not been exemplary. Many resource-rich African countries have high levels of poverty and inequality combined with poor governance and mismanagement of their economic resources. Leaders with a long-term vision and a commitment to participatory democracy have been a rarity on the continent. Good leaders are an essential ingredient in ensuring that the benefits of the rapid economic growth the continent has experienced can be sustained.

With this leadership deficit on the conti- nent as background, in 2008 a few social entrepreneurs established the African Leadership Academy (ALA) – a South Afri- ca-based education institution dedicated to creating social impact in Africa by cultivating and providing lifelong support to the next generation of African leaders. The idea of the ALA was inspired by the notion that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can have a significant social impact in their chosen areas.

The leadership model of the academy is quite innovative and can be distilled into three essential components. The process starts by identifying young Africans between the ages of 15 and 19 who have already demonstrated their leadership potential in some manner through evidence of an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to community service. Next, they gain practical, hands-on experience in entrepreneurship by starting and running entrepreneurial ventures during their two years on campus. ALA then continues to develop these leaders by connecting them to other relevant networks that will enable their further growth, learning and impact. In this way the potential impact of these individuals are magnified by their access and connectivity to peers and like-minded communities.

Since its inception in 2008, the academy has evaluated over 16,000 youth from 48 African nations to select the almost 600 young leaders in its first six classes. To date, ALA young leaders have launched 45 nonprofit and for-profit enterprises as part of their unique curriculum in entrepreneurial leadership. Also, five young entrepreneurs have been recognized by the World Economic Forum for the innovative organizations they have launched in their home countries.

Notwithstanding its relatively short existence, the ALA has demonstrated its capacity to contribute to developing a new generation of leaders who are capable of understanding the challenges of governance in an increasingly complex, dynamic and globalized world.

Case Study 3: Worldreader – Connecting the Dots

Each day, more people in SSA, from fast-growing cities to remote villages, are progressively becoming part of a digital- reading revolution. They are accessing information they need to improve their lives, and among themselves forging a new generation of lifelong readers in places where printed materials are rarely found. And they are doing this with user-friendly, cost-effective, readily available devices and existing mobile technology (see Box 2).

An organization behind this digital revolution is Worldreader.8 When Worldreader started delivering e-books through e-readers to rural areas of Ghana in 2010, it set a simple goal to bring “Books for all”. The more specific intent was to develop a sustainable way for people the world over to use existing technology to access knowledge they could use to transform their lives. How could the idea be deployed and scaled rapidly in a cost-effective, global way? The solution hinged on three main elements: content, technology and partnerships.

Content. Worldreader teamed up with publishers, mostly African, to provide children with a wide choice of storybooks, school textbooks, reference materials, reading materials, language tools and fiction and nonfiction pieces written by local authors. Going a step further, it worked with the publishers in digitizing, translating and delivering e-books in various local African languages (such as Swahili, Hausa and Twi). The reason for this was that in order for literacy levels to improve and for children and adults to become avid readers, they must first be able to read, comprehend and learn in their mother tongue, not in a foreign language such as English.

Box 2: The Digital Reading Revolution in Africa

Dakarai, a student in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, clicks the menu button on his e-reader and stumbles on an e-book that captures his attention. It is a story written by an African author about a child like him, who is also in a wheelchair. He finishes that storybook and finds another one and another. In a few hours, he is enjoying his reading and becoming aware of a better future, one not limited by his disability.

Over in the Arusha area of Tanzania, an 11-year-old girl pulls up the world atlas downloaded on her e-reader and dreams of being a sailor so she can see the world she is discovering on her handheld library.

In Lagos, Nigeria, a teenager thumbs through his basic 2G-enabled feature phone and lands on a book-reading application loaded with thousands of short stories, textbooks, international classics and local fiction. He becomes engrossed in a science book and tweets: “I’m reading #CellBiology on @ Worldreaders Mobile”.

Somewhere in a faraway corner of India, another teenager sees that in her Twitter feed and she browses her mobile phone, finds the app and chooses to read “The Museum” – a short story that earned author Leila Aboulela the Caine Prize for African Writing. She tells her brother about it and, soon after, the whole family is passing around their mobile phones, reading and learning together.

Technology. E-readers and mobile phones that used the extensive and existing 2G (second generation) mobile infrastructure became clear options early on. Innovation, after all, is not always about creating something new from scratch; often, it is about leveraging what is already available and finding a new way to use it. E-readers, essentially single- purpose devices meant only for reading, are less distracting than computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones in classroom settings. Additionally, around 3,500 books could be uploaded on to a low-energy-consuming device via Wi-Fi or local mobile phone networks, converting it quickly into a handheld library stocked with books. And, as with all technology, constantly falling prices make it an attractive tool.

Moreover, basic feature phones are ubiquitous in the developing world. For example, SSA has more than 475 million mobile connections and is the fastest- growing mobile market in the world, with an average annual growth rate of 44% since 2000, according to the GSMA (the mobile phone manufacturers association). Through Worldreader Mobile – a book- reading application – millions of people globally could flip digital pages on a piece of hardware that they have in their pockets and carry with them everywhere.

Partnerships. To facilitate on-the-ground programme implementation and the long-term support required to scale in different geographies, Worldreader knew that it would be crucial to create wide- spread partnerships. For that reason, it moved quickly to establish working relationships not only with publishers and mobile operators but also with govern- ment leaders, education ministries, aid organizations and other nonprofits that had sponsored or invested in building schools. Some relationships led to large-scale e-reader deployments in countries like Ghana and Kenya; others resulted in smaller out-of-the-box pro- grammes launched by individual donors or schools. Momentum from both sides paved the way for project launches impacting thousands of children in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. One such project, which focuses on children with disabilities, stems from a partnership with the King George VI Centre and School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (see Box 3). Unfortunately, in many countries, children with disabilities are often marginalized and their disabilities put them at an increased risk of poverty.

Box 3: One School in Zimbabwe, a World of Difference

King George VI, which serves 345 children, is the only school in Zimbabwe for disabled children, many of whom have been abandoned by their families. In mid-2013 it became the first school in Zimbabwe to have e-readers, which will be used to help secondary school students with their English language skills and encourage leisure reading during library time. This is also where Dakarai, who found a book he could relate to on his e-reader, read a few stories and began to see the world in a new way. For these students, the e-reader is not just a device. It is a life-changing tool, something that will help them shed the stigma they commonly face and maybe, down the road, open doors for them that did not exist before. For the school, it is an opportunity to show how a simple ICT intervention could be embraced by teachers who view the e-reader device as akin to somewhere between a mobile phone and a paper book.

For Worldreader, the experience of King George VI, and schools like it, represent a potential to scale significantly. Operating in areas where paper books cannot be economically distributed, Worldreader is doing two things: (a) it is connecting the dots of three simple and existing technologies: e-books, mobile connectivity and e-readers; and (b) it is kick-starting a discrete market for companies operating in each of these areas, thereby making the project sustainable. The continual fall in the price of this technology means that it is now economically viable to deliver a book to anywhere in the world where a mobile phone works.

Using “Super Highways of Connectivity” to Boost Learning

The rapidly changing landscape of mobile connectivity across the continent has shown SSA to be capable of embracing rapid collective and individual behavioural change. That Africa has no legacy system of landline connectivity has meant that mobile adoption has happened faster – and at a bigger scale – than in any other part of the world. And that rapid change bodes well for the much-needed leap in skills and knowledge generation to bridge educational gaps. In many senses such a change in society itself opens minds to many other changes that only a decade ago would have seemed impossible.

That the private sector and in most cases a healthy competitive mobile sector has been the main catalyst behind better connectivity would indicate that there is an opportunity to encourage the private sector to embrace emerging commercial opportunities in and around education. Governments can help encourage companies to do this when awarding connectivity licences to mobile operators. They can also help move private investment in education away from just corporate social responsibility to something more sustainable. It is key that these “super highways” of connectivity be further leveraged to drive educational impact.

It is often said that it is highly improbable that real and substantial innovation will come from any one sector alone. That is why it is vital that the ministries of education engage with other ministries, especially those responsible for technology, to ensure that fresh thinking is brought to the table – an approach that more and more countries across SSA appear to be embracing.

Thinking even bigger, SSA should be looking to other countries across the world that are in a similar economic and social situation to many of the countries of SSA. By utilizing knowledge and sharing the experience with those countries, shortcuts to drive impact in education can be realized perhaps more than looking for inspiration from the northern hemisphere. The south–south mutual transfer of knowledge needs to be leveraged.

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally of all, the forthright campaign in recent years to ensure SSA countries can generate improved and just earnings on extracting natural resources will enable governments to better invest in long-term improvements in education.



2. Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=2865966b-969e-44d4-a556- 19cf83c472ab&ID=125&Source=https%3A%2F%2Fwww%2 Ejobsknowledge%2Eorg%2FJobsandDevelopmentBlog%2F Home%2Easpx&Web=0883d59e-523e-4969-b84d- 4e317deed77c.

3. fs-25-out-of-school-children-en.pdf.

4. See the Statistical Appendix.

5. Source: pdf, UIS Data Centre.

6. 2006 Census Data, Priority%20table%20Vol%204.pdf.

7. Universal Basic Education Commission, “Pupils enrolment in primary and junior secondary school 2011/2012”, http:// pdf and Enrlmnt%20by%20State.pdf, 2012.

8. Colin McElwee is a co-founder of Worldreader.

Chapter 4: An ‘E.Y.E.’ To the Future: Enhancing Youth Employment