Innovation ‑ the missing link in Africa’s education sector


The education sector in countries within the African continent is facing many challenges that, if left unchecked, can cripple the development of both the education sector and the continent.

Challenges such as lack of ICT in classrooms, lack of innovation and lack of co-ordinated solutions are chronic and can suffocate the growth of Africa. These challenges in the education sector are complex and manifold, with the result that the many pockets of excellence that have developed over the years have not yet brought about systemic change.  

African governments, non-governmental organisations, development partners and stakeholders in the education sector, therefore, should look for solutions that can transform the education sector. Innovation, which is currently the missing link, is one of the possible panaceas to education challenges in the sector.

Innovation breeds change in to the sector and in the process makes a real contribution to sustainable development of the continent. As Denise Archer, in a South African publication said, “A good education system is the cornerstone of a prosperous society – African business must invest heavily in the sector.”

Accordingly, companies in Africa must find ways to support governments and work within education systems to add and strengthen the existing initiatives. Considering the systemic change that is required in the education sector, a higher-level approach is needed to co-ordinate educational activities more coherently. 

Consequently, multiple stakeholders must collaborate to bring about change by using government structures to implement solutions.

This model requires a strong focus on the measurement of learning outcomes – rather than outputs – deepening the understanding of the successes and failures of development interventions to bring about meaningful change. Private schooling is also an alternative solution to bring about the required change in the education system in Africa. In most African countries, private schooling is not a new concept, but low-fee private schooling for the underprivileged is an innovative model that should be on the rise in the African continent.

“Although they (private schools) are clearly a viable alternative to state systems, there is still little understanding of how low-fee private schools fit into the education ecosystem, and whether and how corporate funders should support them,” explained Archer.

Therefore, African businesses should establish low-fee private schools at a faster rate, register them and African governments must fund them.  Companies in the continent can also support curriculum-aligned content development that has the potential for expansive reach at a relatively low cost, particularly through mobile phone platforms.

Thus, to adequately equip learners for the continent and the world they must prosper in, digital literacy needs to be integrated into the curriculum.  For this to happen, libraries should be equipped with latest technologies and librarians must be trained in digital literacy so that they can teach it to learners.

Furthermore, corporates and non-profit organisations in the education space should also focus on equipping teachers with technology skills so that they can apply technology in their teaching, rather than treat it as a separate subject.

“People pick-up the skills they need when they need them, so it is vital to shift away from a standalone ‘computer literacy’ approach to educating learners, and move towards viewing information and communication technology as an integrated educational tool that is used in the classroom every day,” Archer said. To effectively transfer technology in Africa’s education system, tertiary institutions, especially teacher training colleges and universities in the continent should incorporate ICT as a major subject. 

They should make sure that their training materials are prepared to mould technology competent graduates who can effectively teach and enhance the development of the education sector.

“No matter how innovative a solution is, a private funder cannot and should not try to replace the role of government,” said Archer. Players in the sector must play constructive roles to enhance the quality of education in the African continent.  The education system should provide solutions to problems bedeviling the continent.

Education is a dynamic space to stay abreast of; therefore, stakeholders should continually innovate in the hope of improving outcomes.

October 2013
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