•This has resulted in learning institutions and edu-centered tech outfits developing and implementing various technology solutions that enable students to continue learning outside the classroom
•Established online platforms, in a move to support students worldwide, have opted to offer free access to their online learning content
Not least amongst the numerous consequences of the current COVID-19 pandemic is the suspension of traditional classroom learning.
School closures/restrictions in 186 countries targeted at protecting school going children/students from the virus, while simultaneously curbing its spread through the reduction of movement, have directly impacted traditional learning for 1.2 billion students worldwide, according to UNESCO.
This has resulted in learning institutions and edu-centered tech outfits developing and implementing various technology solutions that enable students to continue learning outside the classroom. Further, established online platforms, in a move to support students worldwide, have opted to offer free access to their online learning content. Platforms such as Singapore-based Lark, Bangalore-based BYJU’s, and the BBC’s Bitesize Daily have rapidly scaled up their IT infrastructure in order to enable their platforms to remain stable amidst significantly increased demand for eLearning content.
Indeed, the need to rapidly deploy eLearning material to facilitate educational progress with respect to students in Africa has not been understated or forgotten. Numerous homegrown eLearning solutions are taking root within the continent and illustrating once again that Africa is home to its own solutions. eLearning platforms such as Eneza Education and Zeraki Learning, both based in Kenya, and Siyavula Education, based in South Africa, are rolling out customised, accessible, and affordable online educational content tailored to the unique characteristics of students in their country of operation. For instance, noting that not all students have access to smartphones or reliable internet connections, Eneza Education offers revision and learning material via bite-sized SMS modules – being SMS based, access to the educational content is not limited by lack of internet connectivity, or devices such as laptops, tablets or smartphones.
The timeous eLearning solutions, however, are not without their shortcomings. Specifically, a majority of eLearning content is premised on a student’s ability to access the same through internet-ready devices and the availability of reliable internet connectivity. Although access to reliable internet connectivity in Africa has grown exponentially in the past decade, the same is primarily centered around urban areas. This places students in rural areas with limited connectivity at a disadvantage compared to their urban-based peers. Further, financial impediments and constraints may prevent a significant number of students from being able to access online educational content, even if based in urban areas with relatively higher connectivity.
This ‘digital divide’ is cause for concern that may indicate potential learning gaps were eLearning to become the new normal. It is therefore imperative that policymakers consider options through which the digital divide may be bridged rather than widened. It is notable that edu-tech companies are already rolling out solutions targeted at mitigating internet access challenges – for instance, Snapplify, a South-Africa based edu-tech startup, has rolled out a product, Snappbox, designed to facilitate eLearning across schools and educational institutions with limited or no internet access.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, surprisingly, played a catalytic role in the widespread adoption of eLearning technologies. Further, the global education sector has illustrated its agility and flexibility through the rapid transition from traditional classroom learning to eLearning. Indeed, we may be witnessing a fundamental shift in the future of education.
Karen Kandie – MD IDB Capital