Information and communication technology in education (ICTE) gives rise to a lot of hope concerning the many challenges faced by education systems in Africa. What conditions must be satisfied to facilitate the scaling up of a number of promising initiatives?
In 2015, the mobile penetration rate in Africa stands at about 80% and its single subscriber rate at over 40%. By 2017, it is estimated that some 350 million smartphones will be connected. This dynamism benefits all sectors: it already has an impact on agriculture, health, finance and education. Call centers that give advice to farmers, medical feedback by text message and mobile payment solutions make a major change to the lives of users.
In the field of education, there are also real prospects on the horizon: provision of quality content tailored to the target publics, improvement in teacher training, promotion of learner-centered teaching, facilitation of evaluations and feedback, and data collection for the management of the education system. By 2020, the mobile education market should experience an annual growth rate of over 50% in Africa.
The encouraging feedback and evaluations have now prompted donors and governments to support this momentum. For example, the Francophone initiative for open-distance teacher training (IFADEM), conducted in Madagascar between 2012 and 2013 and coordinated by Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), was implemented in partnership with Madagascar’s National Institute of Vocational Training (INFP), Orange and Agence Française de Développement (AFD).
This government and financial support is essential for scaling up the many initiatives implemented over the past five years. But it is not sufficient.
Promote access to energy
In Sub-Saharan Africa, some 500 million people (out of a billion inhabitants) do not have access to electricity. Consequently, the focus on ICTE requires meeting this energy need, especially to power smartphones and tablets, which consume more than basic cellphones. The fact that the economic equation is increasingly positive for solar power is encouraging. Between 2007 and 2014, the cost of a solar panel dropped to 50 cents per watt, whereas it stood at about 4 dollars per watt in the early 2000s.
This pressing need for energy will most likely be met by a combination of different sources of power generation (fossil, solar and hydro) and by an extension of grid and off-grid power plants. The development of small decentralized grids based on renewable energies will be particularly suitable in Sub-Saharan Africa in view of the vast areas that need to be covered.
This investment in access to energy will need to be combined with capacity building for maintenance. These mini-grid power systems will not last if there is no maintenance or training for local technicians.
Set up after-sales services
Many experiences in the 2000s failed due to the lack of equipment maintenance. Setting up equipment maintenance services is therefore a key factor of success.
The after-sales service for these new terminals – which are technically more sophisticated – requires more specialized skills than for the maintenance of basic cellphones. Setting up these after-sales services therefore provides a real opportunity to create skilled jobs with added value for young people, who are increasingly following secondary education.
Innovate in financing mechanisms
The nomadic nature of the new tools (tablets, laptops, 3G connectivity, etc.) and the fact that families are now widely equipped with them – or are getting equipped with them – radically change the relevance of their standard method of financing, equipment and use (prior definition of ICTE needs, public procurement, restricting the use of this equipment to within education institutions). Would it not now be advisable to promote the sharing of this equipment (BYOD – bring your own device) between families and schools? This interpenetration of uses will have consequences on cost sharing between public authorities, families and companies.
Again, in terms of digital media, new business models should be devised. The example of textbooks illustrates this need. The bulk of the costs to produce them in a digital format is incurred during the initial design phase. As dematerialization allows a reproduction at little or no cost, it will no longer be possible to produce or invoice these teaching resources in the same way.
This digitization also makes it necessary to rethink instruments for public intervention (public production, call on the market via public/private partnerships and boost community dynamics for the creation of open resources). We will need to find the right balance between these three instruments.
Support teachers and head teachers
Technologies alone cannot be a miracle solution. The analysis of the already long history of educational systems that use them – the radio and TV come to mind – reminds us that teaching opportunities with learners are multiplied by the diversity of multimedia tools. Yet the integration of ICTE does not depend so much on technological progress but on its ownership in education. This not only requires promoting training in technical content, but also developing what could be called a digital culture.
Mobile learning has already brought about considerable changes and ICTE would appear to have huge potential. The challenge now lies in bringing about changes in position and innovative coalitions of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.