Lessons From Africa: Local Impact, Global Promise

World of Work October 30, 2017

For nearly five years, I lived in Mumbai, India, during a period that overlapped with the financial crisis in Europe. For a little while, at least, observers looked to India to glean lessons from its jugaad innovation approach (a term denoting “work-around”), which came to signify creative improvisation and frugal management.

Increasingly, global innovation and education communities are turning to another geography for inspiration: sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The region has both the fastest-growing and youngest population in the world, projected to double by 2050 to two billion. But Africa faces many challenges: 30 million of its children have no access to any form of schooling, and education quality is the worst globally. Even students accessing higher quality education are not graduating with the right skill sets: some 54% of African employers state that job seekers’ skills do not match their needs.

But necessity is the mother of invention, as the proverb goes. In what follows, I’ll explore some of the education innovations coming out of Africa. This is the final article in a series focusing on research and findings from The Business of Education in Africa, a major report commissioned by Caerus Capital and supported by the Parthenon-EY practice of Ernst & Young LLP.

African education innovation: themes and models

Africa can serve as an innovation platform, driving solutions for widespread replication. Its unique challenges have already produced globally relevant innovations, such as mobile-phone money transfers (M-Pesa) and crowd-sourced data platforms (Ushahidi).

Some of the themes of its education innovation landscape, alongside promising models, include:

1) Financial solutions geared toward low-income families

For many low-income families, large lump-sum tuition payments can present challenges. Omega Schools (based in Ghana and Liberia) is a low-cost school chain with a “pay-as-you-learn” model that charges students a daily fee equivalent to the out-of-pocket cost of sending a child to a government school. Models such as Opportunity International (in Ghana and Uganda) and RenMoney (in Nigeria) help families get access to short-term loans to pay for school fees. The former has placed more than $70 million in three- to twelve-month education loans, with a typical loan size of $50 to $250 annually.

2) Technology surmounting distance challenges

SSA’s large landmass and high rurality mean that its education innovators have had particular traction in using technology, and distance higher education is a burgeoning sector. For example, Rosebank College (in South Africa), part of the ADvTECH Group, has a digitally enabled “Connected Campus” and is expected to reach students in remote areas as well as working professionals who cannot attend regular classroom-based lectures. Other models, such as Andela (in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda) use technology to connect African talent to the world. Andela recruits talented young people and supports them to become world-class software developers through a four-year technical leadership program in which they receive on-the-job training as remote workers for global technology companies.

3) Supplementary solutions that bolster classroom learning

While governance and regulation of education in SSA are highly varied and can be politically charged, many education segments lie outside state regulation — for example, tutoring and supplementary education. There is freedom to operate in these segments and to add value for students without directly delivering classroom education. For example, Eneza Education (in Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania) is a subscription-based SMS platform for learning resources based on the national curriculum that has reached more than one million underserved children.

4) Solutions achieving scale

Social sectors often address supply shortages by improving efficiencies to serve more people. One of India’s most successful health innovations is Aravind Eye Care System, which consciously drew upon the service efficiency of the fast-food sector to bring low-cost treatment to millions of Indian patients. Some African education innovators are adopting similar approaches in developing highly replicable models. One example is Bridge International Academies (in Kenya, Uganda, India, Liberia and Nigeria), which operates 500 schools enrolling more than 100,000 students from families earning less than $2 a day. Bridge leverages centralized management and instructional platforms to enable economies of scale and uses standardized methods to rapidly scale up new schools.

5) A focus on upskilling and reskilling 

Given the skills gap in SSA, there is a need for retraining working professionals, and a large proportion of the tertiary education population comprises adult learners (e.g., 33% in South Africa and 21% in Kenya). A range of models is emerging to meet this need. GetSmarter (in South Africa) is a platform providing online content to working professionals who take courses in association with universities, such as MIT and University of Cape Town. MANCOSA (reaching eight countries) is a distance-education provider that targets working professionals with more flexible course schedules. Fundi (in South Africa) and Trustco (in Namibia) are student-finance companies whose borrowers are predominantly civil servants aiming to upskill.

SSA already has had the best record of improvement in primary education of any region since the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established. Innovations like those detailed above will support SSA to achieve its potential. And, with luck, they will also illuminate possibilities for other education innovators globally.
This article is the last in a series on the current role and potential for private education in sub-Saharan Africa. The articles draw extensively on the authors’ work on The Business of Education in Africa, a report commissioned by Caerus Capital and supported by the Parthenon-EY Education Centre of Excellence and Oxford Analytica. Maryanna Abdo is Emerging Markets Education Director in the Education Centre of Excellence at Parthenon-EY, Ernst & Young LLP. The views set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.