Glenn Gillis

At EdTechXEurope this year, I was honoured to be on a panel talking about education opportunities and needs in Africa.

In my view, education is the single greatest challenge we face on the continent, for a very fundamental reason: The quality gap in learning and skills development between Africa and the rest of the world will widen as long as Africa as a whole fails to address the application of education technology into its systems. The longer we delay a serious disruption of traditional education approaches, the longer we are effectively handicapping our children and our economies.

There are and will continue to be pockets of excellence in Africa too, but the gap between the top-end institutions and the rest will widen unless we do something drastic. At the current slow rate of change, unless young kids get into private (or high quality public) schools and then good universities or other institutions, they will have a much harder time being work-ready.

Quality 21st century education will allow people to be globally competitive skills-wise. But an undereducated and under-skilled workforce will seriously cripple Africa’s collective GDP, and continue to threaten the economic – possibly the political – well-being of the continent. 

And so the question is how we ignite meaningful intervention, given that in most parts of the continent the conversation is still around how we deliver text books to schools. Not to disparage the old methods and materials, but that was the last war. The world we’re trying to catch up to is already fighting the next one, and we need to jump ahead in order to stand a chance of unlocking the potential we all believe is trapped in Africa .

And the rollout of Education Technology enabled solutions to Africa on a large scale is really the only one worth having. This isn’t about incremental changes, about small pilots here and there, it’s about big and bold initiatives, about giving up some pre-conceived ideas and about companies, governments and public sector bodies truly collaborating to ensure that we don’t condemn the continent to another century of missed opportunities.

Let’s look at just one issue a bit more closely: Africa’s cultural diversity (for example, my home country has 11 official languages) is traditionally seen as a challenge for education – it is sometimes expensive and impractical to present traditional education content in all home languages. This has put many learners – in my country, non-English speakers – at a clear disadvantage from the get-go.

On the other hand, we have opportunity and expertise in Africa to produce content that can reach and engage people from incredibly diverse cultural and economic backgrounds – we have had to do so for large corporates and broadcasters for years, albeit within a different context.

We should now be engaged in finding effective ways to produce educational content and experiences that are easily adaptable for a multitude of applications

We should now be engaged in finding effective ways to produce educational content and experiences that are easily adaptable for a multitude of applications. In my experience, animation, gaming and compelling storytelling are just some of the ways to really unlock true behaviour-change… learning is after all being able to do something you couldn’t do before.

Animated storytelling, aside from being able to inspire and truly unlock the intrinsic motivation to learn, also has the advantage of being truly cost-effective as we scale upwards, making it attractive for large-scale projects.

Our challenge at this point is to convince the funding role-players – government, private sector, public sector – that the solutions they seek are already here in Africa.

We have great content producers, educators, ideas and technology, and sustainable business models are starting to emerge. Now let’s stop thinking of education (or Africa for that matter) as a charity and let’s realise there are great people, great business and other opportunities here, and of course a great need to do things differently and at scale!

This article was first published in Education Technology on 30 July 2016