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EdTech and Africa

Spreading the Word, Sharing the Knowledge

 Joseph Nsengimana

Part of the enjoyment – and, frankly, part of the challenge – of leading the Mastercard Foundation Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT is staying abreast of developments in EdTech and maintain active contributions to thinking on the subject.

The need to do so has never been greater. As the African proverb tell us, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Cooperation is key to any large-scale endeavor, even more so in a context of limited resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has made such exchanges and cooperation all the more challenging. The rich interactions of in-person meetings or conferences have largely disappeared.

So, I’ve been spending time a good bit of time taking part in webinars, on-line chats, and other forms of digital consultations on this critical topic. Not only do I get to explain what we’re attempting, and what we’re achieving, at the Centre, I also learn what other innovative and forward-thinking organizations are doing.

For instance, in May I took part in a webinar organized by UNESCO on the subject of “Connectivity for Learning” and the impact on education of school closings as a result of the pandemic. It was a dynamic and productive discussion on how digital connectivity “provides a crucial portal that allows individuals to access critical information, maintain social communication, and continue their education.”

One essential point that emerged was the way in which school closings have significantly reduced the inertia that once surrounded discussion about, and application of, education technology. Parents, teachers, and education authorities were all able to see the value of using modern tools to connect students with learning opportunities.

Africa addressing Africa’s issues

In September, I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion on “Digital Connectivity Across Africa”. It was part of a series of events from the African Diaspora Network’s 2021 Investment Symposium, under the over-arching theme of “Leapfrogging Africa: Health, Education, Technology, and Finance”.

I spoke with other African experts from across the globe about how to remove barriers to connectivity and increase economic opportunity, including how to connect 800 million Africans to the internet, which will undoubtedly yield education benefits.

A key takeaway: It’s important to approach these issues from a demand-driven perspective. It’s more about “what is the problem we’re all trying to solve”, with African voices leading that discussion, and less about “here is some cool technology. How we can use it?”

You can view the session here: (begins at approx. 32:00).

Also, in September, I was happy to participate in a webinar organized by the Forum for World Education on how to innovatively fund education, including making educational investments more effective. It was a rich discussion that brought together leaders in this field, including the Chairman of Ernst and Young China as well as the Chair of the Executive Board of Germany’s ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Foundation.

During the conversation, a few points seemed especially to resonate with others. Among them, my view that there is certainly room in Africa for improvements in efficiency and equity when it comes to spending public monies on education. Some of those improvements can come from more and stronger public-private partnerships that can support better outcomes, particularly in vocational training and in tertiary education where more R & D is needed. Noting, of course, that private sector investments in education should be seen as a supplement to and not as a replacement for public sector funding.

See this panel discussion here (begins at approx. 54:00).

Overall, these events reflect  the global dialogue on teaching and learning that has been sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. We now see the future of education as being less school and classroom-centric and more centered on lifelong learning, anywhere at any time. The key is deploying accessible and appropriate technology to enable equitable and efficient learning.

For me, the fora that I’ve participated in all served to reinforce the idea that it is urgent to think through and improve the EdTech space in Africa so that everyone can grow and benefit: students, teachers, entrepreneurs, education authorities, the communities they all work in, and eventually society at large.

 Joseph Nsengimana is the Director of the Foundation’s Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT.