Unleashing edtech needs more than tech: lessons from Africa
“Africa needs a new model for learning and development, a plan to point the path ahead to a future of opportunity”
The eLearning Africa annual conference, the largest and most comprehensive knowledge sharing event for technology-enhanced education, training and skills on the African continent, has just wrapped-up.
Speakers from around the globe converged in Dakar, Senegal to address the theme of the conference “New Model Learning: Innovating to Become Sustainable, Self-Reliant, Equitable and Resilient”.
It is true; Africa needs a new model for learning and development, a plan to point the path ahead to a future of opportunity. UNESCO estimates a shortfall in teachers in sub-Saharan Africa of 15 million. Worse, teachers struggling to help students often have little or no support.
These shortfalls go some way to explaining why in sub-Saharan Africa, only 10% of children can read a simple sentence by the age of 10.
Much of the focus in Dakar was on the ways technology can be harnessed to improved outcomes for students. This is right. Used appropriately, technology is part of the answer to the current learning crisis which means the majority of African children attend at least primary school, but still fail to reach even basic literacy and numeracy standards.
But my message to leaders at eLearning Africa was: this is not enough. It is tempting to think of technology as a cure-all for the challenges faced in education. Yet a narrow, isolated application of inappropriate tech may actually slow progress towards providing every child with a transformative education.
NewGlobe, working as the supporting partner for visionary governments primarily in Africa, has found that harnessing technology as part of a robust, holistic view of whole system transformation gets results.
The governments NewGlobe works with are moving away from an older approach of fragmented individual interventions and towards a new way of integrated whole-system transformation.
This addresses all of the challenges faced within an education system together, weaving interventions so they both support and inform one another, like bricks building a house.
To be clear, technology is at its heart. Teacher tablets, e-reader type devices, are put in the hands of every teacher and provide detailed instruction to support best classroom practice. This helps to simplify lesson delivery and guide teachers where they may struggle. The power of these tablets lies in their content. Bespoke lesson plans, designed by education experts to each specific curriculum, ensure every child is taught to their maximum potential.
And the tablets are robust.They are designed to be “offline first” – going for up to two weeks without connectivity and able to update through just a 2G link.
But this is just the start. The teacher tablets also provide a stream of valuable data. Key metrics, including lesson completion, attendance of teachers and students as well as test results are available to those at every level of school governance. Suddenly, a light is shone into every classroom.
The programs supported by NewGlobe do even more. A holistic approach to transformation also includes comprehensive induction training for each and every teacher, followed by on-going coaching by a dedicated team of expert professional development coaches, who visit every classroom up to three times a month to provide feedback and coaching. Every school leader also receives dedicated training and regular support visits from specially trained supervisors.
Such a combination of modern technology, data-driven interventions and bespoke teacher and school leader support is at the heart of transforming learning for students. The results are spectacular.
NewGlobe works with the Government of Lagos State, responsible for educating children in the fifth largest city in the world. In just three years of its EKOEXCEL education program, the number of children able to read a passage with comprehension has increased tenfold.
Public schools in Lagos now produce some of the top students in Nigeria national common entrance exam, a testament to their holistic transformation.
EdoBEST, NewGlobe’s partnership program with the Edo State Government, has seen similar accomplishments. Within one term, Primary 3 EdoBEST students scored six percentage points higher in maths and seven percentage points higher in English Literacy than their peers. Girls outperformed boys, as well as outperforming both boys and girls outside the program. These achievements have led to a further expansion, funded by the World Bank, bringing both junior secondary schools and progressive schools into this education revolution.
With the help of the NewGlobe model, schools in NewGlobe’s partnership program with the Rwandan government, RwandaEQUIP, of which I am managing director, have seen teacher absenteeism drop by over 50% and pupil attendance increase, all in the span of less than two years. Looking ahead, RwandaEQUIP is set to roll out into a further 511 schools by this September, and will serve over one million pupils in 2023.
Such findings from across Africa have been reinforced by a recent independent study, led by Nobel Prize winning economist, professor Michael Kremer.
Primary students in NewGlobe-supported Kenya schools gain almost an additional year of learning in two years. For early childhood school students, the gains are even greater. The same holistic methods used here underpin every program NewGlobe supports across Africa.
It is this whole system approach which is transforming learning outcomes at scale and at speed for so many African children – two million in 2023 and increasing year on year.
The message is clear. Technology is a powerful tool, but just one of those needed. To truly transform learning for Africa’s children, education leaders need them all.
About the author: Clement Uwajeneza is Africa director NewGlobe and managing director, RwandaEQUIP