Today's era is defined by emerging innovative technologies. We are living in a time during which digital is merging with the physical and robots are capable of executing surgeries on human brains. These times require completely revolutionary approaches to schooling and to education - approaches that start with children as young as 2 and 3. So, how do we prepare today's children for the "technology renaissance" we are witnessing? How do we prepare them for the global challenges? How can we increase the quality of education in developing countries that are experiencing significant social and economic transformations?
We had a chance to talk with Sabina Vigani, Country Director at TRECC, and Catherine Seya, Early Childhood Technical Lead at TRECC, about the future of education in Africa and worldwide to find out some insights on the education development in Africa.
How do you envision the future of school education in Africa?
C.S. Whether the gap between Africa’s social and economic situation and that of the West or other emerging regions narrows depends largely on the performance and relevance of its schooling system in the years to come. First, in terms of service delivery, African nations will have to ensure that access to quality education drastically improves given the rapid population increase the continent is witnessing. It is important to note that quality education is just as important as access.
Access without quality undermines investments in the sector and yields limited gains. Ivory Coast, and the continent more broadly, has witnessed an increase of the school attendance rates over the last two decades, but the massification of students has come with new challenges, such as overcrowded classrooms, insufficient manuals, demotivated teachers, to name just a few. As a result, more children attend school, but they are not learning. To give you an idea, the 2019 national evaluation shows that barely 19% of children in the third grade have reached a sufficient level of mastery in reading. We need to make sure that teaching is effective and that children learn.
Secondly, and very importantly, the content taught in schools must be relevant to the local economies, but should also equip youth with relevant skills and knowledge allowing them to embrace global trends, such as the rapid growth of technologies, adapt in a rapidly changing world and address global issues like healthcare, energy, and development challenges.
Quality education is strongly linked to job creation and employment rates, and it will significantly determine how the continent performs in the global economy 10, 20, and 50 years from now.
How will the learning experience transform, in your opinion, given the rapid growth of technologies?
S.V. The current COVID-19 crisis provides a vivid example of how technology has already transformed the learning experience. In many European countries, homeschooling has replaced the physical classroom almost in an eyeblink, with teachers uploading online programs, and parents sending to the teachers the tasks once completed. Even before this unprecedented sanitary crisis, amazing social enterprises across African countries have developed low-cost educational technologies, accessible on dumb phones, like in the case of Eneza Education.
More fundamentally, technology is changing the relationship between the teacher and the student. Much of the information that only teachers possessed is now available to students online. The role of a teacher is changing towards that of a facilitator or coach, while students are no longer merely consuming knowledge but are contributing to knowledge creation. Technology also leads to a deeper learning experience by creating more personalised, self-directed experiences for students.
How can African schools adapt to the challenges of the global market? How can they bridge the skills gap?
S.V. In the past 20 years, Sub-Saharan African countries have made significant progress in poverty reduction and access to education. Between 1984 and 2014, public expenditure on education has increased sevenfold on average. Yet, the workforce is the least skilled in the world. To build their human capital and bridge the skills gap, Sub-Saharan African countries should start by increasing investments in the early years and ensuring the acquisition of foundational skills.
In most African countries, the skills gap begins indeed to widen at an early age, as a large majority of children experience a difficult start in life, suffering from chronic malnutrition and lacking adequate stimulation to support the development of socio-emotional and cognitive skills. This situation hinders readiness to learn even before children enter the formal school system. The skills gap continues to widen as most children struggle to acquire literacy and numeracy skills in primary school.
To address this situation, countries should set as a priority tackling teachers’ absenteeism and accountability, and improving teaching practices. Once youths make it to technical education and vocational training, programs are often misaligned with the labour market’s needs and don’t pay attention to existing gaps in foundational skills and other skills required to cope with rapidly changing jobs. This mismatch highlights the pressing need for the government designing the skills agenda to engage with various stakeholders, such as families and caregivers, who play a critical role in the early years, and the private sector for relevant inputs when it comes to training programs.
Each African country has its own political, economic and cultural contexts, but could you outline some commonalities in education throughout the continent? What are the major challenges in 2020?
- Rapidly growing populations.
- Disparities emerging because of non-standardised quality (quality differs across schools) and inequitable access.
- Poor quality content and poor-quality processes (e.g., outdated curriculum, inadequate materials, poorly trained teachers, poor school management, etc.).
- Indirect costs/opportunity costs of attending school especially in rural areas.
- Political, social and environmental crises.
- Poor quality of the physical infrastructure environment (maintenance, overcrowding, sanitation, etc.).
- Discrepancies between national policies and actual implementation.
Imagine that you have a superpower to change two things about the education system in Ivory Coast, what would you change immediately?
C.S First, I would establish a reliable, well-regulated performance-based payment system to reward performing teachers based on children's learning outcomes and use them as role models across the country.
Second, I would ensure that school canteens, especially in rural areas, are functional throughout the school year with a symbolic contribution from the parents.
What is your favourite example (or a few ones) of an efficient innovation or approach in education, preferably that happened in the African realia?
C.S. Listing some of my current favourites:
- ABC-Code in Cameroon: Coding and robotics lessons for children in their mother tongue.
- Educlick: Online bank of practice questions based on the school syllabus.
- Lindkey School in Ivory Coast: Complimentary entrepreneurship component for existing school curricula.
- Eneza Education in Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Ghana: A solution that provides, at affordable cost, revision and learning material via basic feature phones.
- Science Set in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia: Portable and affordable science toolset for practicing school lessons.
What do you consider the most significant achievement of TRECC in Africa and in the Ivory Coast in particular?
S.V. Over the last few years, TRECC has brought together the government of Ivory Coast, twelve cocoa and chocolate companies, three philanthropic organisations and twenty civil society organisations to improve quality education in the country. This private-public partnership has mobilised financial and intellectual capital to support the government of Ivory Coast in pursuing two of its strategic objectives: ensuring a good start in life and providing quality education to all children. As TRECC was launched, few believed that we would be successful in bringing together such a diverse group of stakeholders, with very different missions and interests. Yet, the TRECC ecosystem has taken shape progressively and is demonstrating the value of collaborative efforts to support system-wide changes.
What do you think is the biggest value of cooperation between TRECC and such organisations as Seedstars?
S.V. We share with Seedstars a passion for entrepreneurial spirit and the conviction that entrepreneurs can produce affordable innovative solutions to improve living conditions in emerging markets. Seedstars travels the world to identify talented changemakers and start-ups that develop solutions to address many of the challenges of the traditional education systems. With the education prize, TRECC wants to celebrate the creativity, determination and professionalism of these young changemakers that contribute to fulfill the promise of education.
Launched in February 2016, TRECC (Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities) is a program supported by the Jacobs Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation and the UBS Optimus Foundation. TRECC works with industry partners, the Ivorian government, researchers, non-governmental organisations, local organisations and entrepreneurs.TRECC fosters close collaboration between public and private institutions that share a common goal: to ensure that children in Ivory Coast are afforded a good start in life and quality education. TRECC is now preparing to extend to Ghana.
To learn more about the education in Ivory Coast, please check the ‘Report on the State of EdTech in Ivory Coast’ by TRECC and Seedstars.