Can Digital Accelerate Africa’s Renaissance?

As Africa braces for the looming threat of robotised factories in Asia to its manufacturing boom, accessible education is under a renewed spotlight to ensure a sustainable future for the continent.

Lack of accessible education, political instability and under-investment in the continent’s vast human and natural resources have long been impediments to economic growth and development. Yet, all this could change in the not-too-distant future thanks to new digital possibilities and a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit characterising the next generation of African minds.

Local Innovators Introduce Digital to Africa’s Classrooms

Kenya-based technology company, BRCK, is coming up with smart ways to introduce digital learning to classrooms across Africa. Through Kio Kits, the company is bringing virtual classrooms-in-a-box to thousands of schools that consist of 40 smart tablets, a wireless internet connection and a charging unit.

Armed with one of these kits, entire classrooms can connect to the web to access interactive online content. Small enough to fit in a medium-sized briefcase, Kio Kits connect at 4G speeds, come with a built-in cooling system and can manage up to 2TB of internal data storage.

However, the company’s investment in a digital Africa goes beyond education. It also intends to connect the continent’s 1.2 billion inhabitants to fast and reliable internet. The SupaBRCK is designed to bring connectivity to Africa’s rural and most remote areas, where many people are accustomed to languishing or no connectivity at all. Further, SupaBRCKs collectively create a content distribution network (CDN) to give users access to media-rich content from the world’s leading streaming services.

The average African’s appetite for connectivity is the fuel behind a rush to get the continent online. With over 700 million mobile users, 4G network service providers like SupaBRCK are leapfrogging soon-to-be-extinct ADSL connectivity with comparatively low-cost infrastructure and far better service quality.

“We started to realize how big of an issue this was shortly after we shipped our first products, so began thinking through a solution, both hardware and software, that would allow organizations to manage connectivity, power, computing and storage in an all-in-one device, designed for frontier markets, such as Africa.” ~ Erik Hersman, BRCK CEO

Replacing Textbooks With Digital Content

Kenya’s Digital Literacy Programme aims to bring eLearning to over 23 000 public primary schools across the country. One of the biggest projects in digital learning on the continent to date, the programme will include 1.2 million devices at a price tag of $286 million to gear out classrooms.

Through partnerships with content creators and distributors like Snapplify, the undertaking to bring eLearning to African classrooms is getting a much-needed shot in the arm. According to Snapplify’s CEO, Wesley Lynch, “We are proud to be supporting important projects that empower schools and students across Africa to embrace digital learning. It’s important to us that educators are able to offer students access to world-class educational materials and eLearning platforms, regardless of the challenges presented by a low-connectivity and bandwidth availability.”

However, the focus isn’t just on kids; thousands of teachers are being upskilled by companies like Eiffel Corp in using technology as an education medium. The company is the first accredited global partner to offer the Digital Teaching and Learning Series Certification to educational institutions. To date it’s made significant progress in countries like South Africa and others in bringing educators up to speed with new digital realities in the classroom.

It will be crucial for educators to adapt to new ways of teaching to make the transformation in the sector both effective and sustainable. According to Stefan Du Plessis, Commercial Director of Eiffel Corp. “An essential factor to achieving student success is whether faculty have the right skills to use the learning technology that the institution has invested in. For many institutions, while faculty have strong academic experience, and competency to teach, some are less confident teaching with technology.”

Big Tech Brands Investing In African Education

Local entrepreneurs are being joined by some of the biggest names in tech to help bring about a renaissance in African education. Billions is being invested in infrastructure projects to make educational platforms more readily available to the continent’s youth. Microsoft, for example, has struck up a number of partnerships with African governments to bring digital learning programmes to students, while simultaneously campaigning to increase awareness of its Office 365 Education suite.

Also, IBM’s “Digital – Nation Africa” initiative aims to empower over 25 million African youths with “new collar” skills that centre on fostering the cognitive talents required to thrive in the digital space. The next generation of “new collar” Africans is another leapfrog concept in the sense that it will help to fast-track digital talent by focusing on core competencies for digital literacy.

According to IBM, the initiative, “…will provide a range of programmes from basic IT literacy to highly sought-after advanced IT skills including social engagement, digital privacy, and cyber protection.” The investment of nearly R1 billion will extend across countries as far and wide as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

Africa’s Youth Are Ready to Become the Next Digital Stars

With nearly a quarter of its 1.2 billion inhabitants under the age of 18, Africa has a huge asset in its youth. This makes investment in the continent’s talent key to achieving the ever-fleeting African renaissance it aspires to. However, with projects like the aforementioned gaining traction, coupled with a hunger for education and skills that extend beyond factories, Africa’s youth might just upend those of developed nations.

According to the Africa-focused website, How We Made It In Africa, “Technology has the power to fundamentally change the lives of young people, and investment into human capital is critical in building the next digital generation. By fostering appreciation and ability in the tech space in Africa, the pool of graduates and tech talent can only grow – enabling both existing and new parties to scale up their digital transformation efforts.”

The overwhelming human capital Africa has to its advantage will require serious and continued investment by both governments and private sectors. While it appears that a new dawn may finally be on the horizon, how well the continent’s leaders seize opportunities that come with digital will determine the heights it will be able to reach.

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