Information and communication technology in Africa has the potential to transform businesses, education and governments in Africa, fostering leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth.
For example, the eTransform Africa report was created in 2012 in order to work on multiple case studies and projects that include ICT transformation in Africa, fostering both implementation and successful execution (in action). eTransform was presented by the World Bank and the African Development Bank with support from the African Union, highlighting the best practices of African countries in the use of ICTs in key sectors of the African economy.
While ICT has been used to improve education quality and increase access in many parts of the world, most African countries continue to face the challenge that increased education spending is not always meeting the expected results.
Most African countries that have succeeded in enabling the integration of ICT in education have already been implementing and maintaining a proper policy environment.
South Africa is a prime example of a country that has implemented such a system. After much analysis, a demonstration was initiated that underscored where ICT integration of teaching and learning has significantly scaled up, and cross-sectoral collaboration has been implemented between ministries of education and other sectors.
This policy environment includes both policies and initiatives that support the national ICT agenda, such as policies on ICTs in education, bandwidth and connectivity.
Most importantly, these African nations must adjust resource allocation and establish budgets in accordance with these new policies and regulations.
Expanding Access to ICT Infrastructure in African Countries
On one hand, the main issue threatening ICT growth in the education sector in Africa is affordability. The cost of using ICT should be based on the payment options available to African users and institutions. The relatively slow rollout of the 4G network in Rwanda in East Africa, for example, is due to its high cost in comparison to the existing 3G network.
On the other hand, expanding access to rural areas is also essential. Internet connectivity infrastructure may not be available in rural areas, and of course, the private sector is less involved in rural projects. Creative options can be fruitful. This includes helping local SME operators to fill this gap and facilitating secondary markets for spectrum (especially with 5G deployment, now mainly in South Africa and limited to some urban areas).
According to a study conducted by Dr. Mamello Nchake from the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University and Dr. Mohammed Shuaibu from the Department of Economics at the University of Abuja in Nigeria: “The 2020 Africa Economic Outlook Report shows that only a third of the countries achieved inclusive growth, reducing both poverty and inequality. The report underscores the need to create jobs and develop more opportunities to access the quality of education, for instance by expanding access to schools in remote areas and increasing the use of ICT infrastructure in schools.”
In addition, infrastructure maintenance that combines research groups, experts, workshops, and the manufacturing sector with internet and communication techniques and local maintenance centers may be challenging and hard to adapt to in countries where ICT is not yet fully established. However, maintaining effective communication and coordination between local and central maintenance centers is one major necessity of the ICT infrastructure.
Enhancing Human Capacity
Building a sufficient and improved human capacity in the ICT field remains a challenge in most African countries. Those that have already implemented a national strategy in order to develop their teachers and educators professionally make it easier to achieve scale in education. For instance, Tech/NA! is an ICTs in Education Initiative launched by the Namibian Ministry of Education in 2007 with the goal of equipping institutions, educating teachers and students, and empowering entire communities.
Opportunities for teacher competence development include global and regional programs such as iEARN, which is available in 29 African countries. Communities of practice provide a cost-effective model of professional development because they rely on teachers to contribute to and sustain them. Teachers who participate in communities of practice are more confident in their work and less afraid to show it to others for scrutiny and critique. The Partners in Learning Network (PILN), Siyavula and the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) Forum are a few examples.
Therefore, developing and retaining ICT talent remains a major challenge, especially in African universities.
Accessing Better Living Conditions
Education is a key factor, especially in most African countries, in being able to ensure that people find or create productive employment and sustainable livelihoods, and this is integral to any sustainable development agenda.
According to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, improving access to and attainment of higher levels of education will lead to “more equitable access to better living conditions, increasingly specialized and better-paid jobs, and a more sustainable environment as well as sustainable economic and social development.” Without education that fosters human skills, access to information and ICT will not bring the expected developmental benefits. A knowledge society requires the ability to identify, generate, process, transform, disseminate and use information to construct and apply knowledge for human development.
The combination of education and ICT has the potential to be a powerful growth engine for the African continent. Improving the higher education system should be high on the development agenda of all African countries. African higher education institutions and policymakers must ensure that citizens acquire the skills to compete, innovate and respond to complex social, environmental and economic situations. Governments can work with the private sector and civil society to support educated and skilled people and efficient, innovative systems while creating and utilizing knowledge to gain a competitive advantage for businesses, especially in the education field.