E-learning for Africa held back by power shortage


Source: BBC

Is a lack of power holding back educational technology in Africa?

There are well-documented problems about access to education. The Africa Learning Barometer at the US-based Center for Universal Education at Brookings says of the continent’s nearly 128 million school-aged children, 17 million will never attend school.

There have been improvements, with targets for the millennium development goals widening access to primary school.

But many millions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, never start school or learn so little that it is hardly worth them attending.

Against this backdrop, education in Africa, particularly in East Africa, has become a hotbed for e-learning.

Education providers, politicians and entrepreneurs agree on the potential of educational technology as a way to reach out-of-school children and improve the education received by those that are in school.

‘Huge potential’

“The potential is huge. There are 440 million under-16s on the African continent, and the vast majority of them aren’t getting a quality education, because their schools are overcrowded, with under-trained teachers, and with little to no learning resources,” said Nisha Ligon, chief executive of Tanzanian company Ubongo, which creates digital content.

solar powerImage copyrightThinkstock
Image captionSolar power is being predicted as filling the gap in power

“E-learning gives us a great opportunity to supplement these kids’ learning at a massive scale,” says Ms Ligon, whose company’s television output reaches over 1.5 million households in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana.

“We see e-learning as a huge opportunity to equalise the access to learning material for the majority of schools in Africa that are under-served financially or academically,” said Nivi Mukherjee, president of education at Kenyan company BRCK.

The company’s product, the BRCK, is a rugged, self-powered, mobile wi-fi device aimed at connecting people to the internet in areas without reliable access to electricity.

The company has rolled out a low-cost tablet running web-based content and locally cached videos, for use by school students.

‘Chronic shortage’

But how do you power it? What e-learning devices need more than anything are power and connectivity.

This is an area where many parts of Africa continue to fall short. While internet penetration and grid power have become more widespread, especially in urban areas, a chronic shortage of power still affects the continent.

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