I recently attended the eLearning Africa conference in Kigali: the largest and longest Africa focused digital learning gathering.
However, within an hour of entering the venue, I was surprised to find that most of the EdTech solutions on display were foreign. This observation was unsettling, a disappointment that many other attendees also commented on. I ran the numbers, nearly 80% of the 51 EdTech solutions on display were foreign.
What stung most, and sparked this piece, was that many of foreign EdTech solutions seemed to show little care for adapting their solutions to the needs of African learners.
- A digital classroom solution provider demoed their product, which was completely in German
- Another eLearning product boasted about their 3,000+ courses, of which 60%+ are taught in German
If curious, yes, there are German speaking Africans. 0.001% of Africa’s 1.3B citizens speak German.
African EdTech solution providers weren’t the only excluded group; so were teachers. An informal poll during one session revealed that <10% of attendees were teachers. The cost of such gathers makes it inaccessible to key stakeholders. The net result is that most of the foreign solution providers were targeting donor agencies as potential customers, as opposed to school heads or teachers, who know best what African students need.
Across Africa’s investment ecosystem, many investors are trying to address issues of equity by prioritizing funding ventures with local founders. But beyond the commitments of individual investors, systemic barriers continue to disadvantage local entrepreneurs. These disadvantages result in African EdTech solutions being left out of a $20B annual opportunity.
The development sector – dominated by DFIs, Donors and Philanthropists – collectively spend $20B annually on education efforts in “developing” markets annually. When these organizations underwrite multi-year and 8-figure EdTech projects, they often select foreign solutions not purpose-built for African students.
Take for example the $40M iMlango Project funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The EdTech-driven project, which connected 245 schools with high-speed satellite broadband connectivity and access to digital learning content for literacy, numeracy and life skills. So how effective was the $40M Project? A recent final report paints a report card that’s underwhelming:
1) “One aspect of the iMlango project which has been proposed as a tool for sustainability…is the utilization of offline learning content”
Translation: a learning from after the project completed…not before, was the need for offline capability for African students
2) “Asking schools to take on a project costing on average £32,681 each year will be highly problematic for most schools. It is clear that the cost model of the project is unsustainable and needs to be significantly reworked”
Translation: the selected EdTech products are too expensive for the target customer
3) “It is worth re-stating here that the self-reported nature of the findings relating to learning outcomes is a significant limitation”
Translation: for impact evaluation they asked students if they feel smarter….knowing this is not a sound research approach
4) “Despite being well aligned with government initiatives…it is important that [Ministry of Education] officials did not confirm the delivery of any upcoming initiatives that iMlango could be scaled with”
Translation: the government has no interest or plans to continue this project
I believe much of the above project shortfalls were because the solution providers were non-African. The iMlango project, touted as a “private-sector led” project, was delivered by a consortium of foreign solution providers. The selected solution providers, all UK-based companies, had no/little experience in Kenya before this $40M project based on my research.
What makes me so confident that Kenyan EdTech solutions would have delivered better results? Well, Zeraki, a Kenyan-founded venture currently has 3,600+ Kenyan schools using and paying for their suite of EdTech products. Edves, a Nigerian Edtech product, has 1,000+ schools clients across 5 African markets using their solution. If both these African EdTech solutions were able to 4-15X the reach of iMalango without a $40M capital injection, imagine what they could do with $40M in capital? EdTech in Africa will scale most effectively when solutions built for African students are given the support to scale.
- Convenings like eLearning Africa need to be platforms to showcase African EdTech solutions, not a platform to allow more foreign solutions to penetrate, and fail, in Africa.
- Donor/DFI funded projects like iMalango need to prioritize selecting African EdTech solutions, instead of foreign solutions not built for the needs of African students and consumers.
Note: The organizers of the eLearning Africa Conference indicated that they do offer discounts to African solution providers to attend, but acknowledge that most African solution providers attend as delegates and not exhibitors, likely because of cost barriers.
The blogpost was written by Abdul-Karim Mohamed. The post was originally posted on LinkedIn and is available here.
Head of Education in East Africa for Acumen Fund
Abdul leads a $10M Education Facility which is actively investing in innovative K-12 social enterprises improving the quality of education for children in East Africa. Abdul, a recovering engineer, has been investing in and supporting innovative education and health social enterprises for nearly a decade.