Harnessing the EdTech revolution in Africa

The African-based education technology (edtech) startup uLesson, recently secured $7.5 million in a venture capital investment. uLesson founder and CEO Sim Shagaya stated that the foundations for an education revolution have been motioned into action due to access to more affordable smartphones and the adoption to embrace online learning in light of COVID-19. While the pandemic itself was a grave predicament, it did trigger a boom for the edtech sector in Africa and expanded mobile penetration and online infrastructure. This education revolution, powered by edtech, could provide new opportunities to African students and educators. However, as much as it allows for solutions to close the digital divide in Africa, it also presents unique challenges.

The Education Challenge in Africa 

Access to education is a longstanding issue for Africa. According to UNESCO, 60% of African youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school. Africa hosts only 8.9% of the world’s higher education institutions, yet it is the youngest population globally. Along with poverty and instability, this lack of education resources threatens Africa’s future as the working-age population will grow by 450 million by 2035. With no access to education, many young Africans face a future of unemployment.

Educators in Africa also feel the strain. Many organizations have worked to build professional learning communities to support educators and improve the quality of education. But these efforts are often hampered by a lack of resources and connectivity.

Can Edtech Close the Gap?

Edtech has always been seen as a potential solution to Africa’s lack of educational resources. However, the number of African tech startups receiving funding grew six times faster than the global average from 2015 through 2020. Furthermore, in the first half of 2021, edtech companies in Africa raised $12.83 million, an 89.5% increase over the same period in 2020.

Similar investments have occurred in Africa’s mobile and online capacity. In Ethiopia, smartphone shipments grew by 10% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2021. Kenya, where the teacher-to-student ratio is 1:50, experienced similar growth in mobile penetration. As more Africans gained access to mobile and online technology, many recognized its potential as a learning resource, particularly for higher education. Continually, these types of advancements can also open doors and prepare African students for higher education in the U.S., even at prestigious IVY league institutions, like Harvard and Yale.

Edtech and Professional Learning in Africa

The African edtech boom is not a panacea. Some worry it is only widening the digital divide. Many African students and educators still do not have access to the internet, while those who do, struggle with poor connectivity and frequent power outages.

But many African educators are reaping benefits from the surge of investment. Teachers are encouraged to continue to use the same technologies that connect them with students to expand their professional learning communities. Educators in Gambia, Uganda, and South Africa have used technology to connect, train together, share best practices, and support each other. The boom in edtech cannot solve all of Africa’s education challenges, but with support, it can offer educators and students new opportunities for a better future.


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