Facing Forward Report Downplays Potential Role of Ed-tech in Africa

By Cait Etherington
March 20, 2018

According to the UN, primary education levels in developing countries are now over 90% but this still leaves more than 55 million children out of school. Moreover, most of these children are living in Sub-Saharan Africa. A new study by the World Bank, Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa, offers an in-depth snapshot of education in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially at the elementary level. While the report does acknowledge the potential role technology might play in bridging the ongoing education gap across the continent, by and large, the report stays focused on other educational concerns from staffing and training to facilities and textbooks.

The Current Education Landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa

As stated in Facing Forward, enrolling students in elementary-level schools is “the first step in building the region’s knowledge capital.” While gains have been made over the past 25 years across Africa, there is still a great deal of work left to be accomplished. Specifically, all learners will need about10 years of education to compete, but this is a long ways off.

Report Cites Technology as Part of a Broader Solution

As stated in the World Bank study, Africa‘s technology gap is part of the current educational crisis, because grappling with the weaknesses in Sub-Saharan Africa’s basic education systems entails many activities such as planning and analysis. However, according to the report, to date, efforts on all these fronts have remained fragmented.

As the report emphasizes, technology, specifically mobile technologies, might provide a viable solution: “The high level of mobile telephone penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa and the falling costs of using digital resources provides an opportunity for the region to use technology.” However, as further emphasized, “Faced with the constraints of infrastructure and connectivity…the introduction of technology must necessarily be an iterative process. Nevertheless, the use of technology and digital resources must be actively considered, given the high cost of building traditional laboratories and libraries and the low level of teacher subject knowledge and skills.”

While the World Bank’s Facing Forward report does recognize that technology matters and further acknowledges that mobile technologies, in particular, might help bridge the education gap in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to note that the 75-page report doesn’t directly discuss online learning or eLearning nor even mention the web or Internet. By contrast, a lack of textbooks is cited as a problem, as is a general lack of printed material. Indeed, as stated in the report, “When governments try to cope by hiring more teachers and building more classrooms,” it frequently “means that students often lack printed materials and other resources for learning.”

Facing Forward’s Key Recommendations

Given the depth of the education crisis, especially in some of Sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest nations, the World Bank’s Facing Forward report offers several key recommendations, including the following:

  • Prioritizing regularity and data accuracy in assessments.
  • Creating a pool of education specialists.
  • Participating in broader government-based initiatives to improve efficiency.
  • Using a local approach to build capacity.

Facing Forward serves as a reminder that while much can be gained from ed-tech initiatives, in parts of the world where books and other printed materials are often still a luxury, apps and platforms alone can’t be the only answer.