A pressing question for Côte d’Ivoire is how to keep its economy on an accelerated, sustainable and more inclusive growth path in order to reduce inequalities significantly. Education in Africa has suffered tremendously from a decade of domestic conflicts which directly correlates with lower levels of education and unemployment, as graduates no longer meet employer requirements. Now is the time to leverage technology and impact investing.
Steady economic growth and public investment over the past few years has triggered governments in emerging economies to raise their standards. Côte d’Ivoire is a high-growth economy (consistent 7-9% GDP growth in the past few years), and public spending on education has increased which has enabled the government to build new classrooms and recruit new teachers.
1. Educational disparities and challenges
The primary drawback is a lack of local talents to sustain educational progress and diversification. A substantial portion of rural populations in Côte d’Ivoire are under-educated, resulting from a combination of high drop-out rates and poor education outcomes even for kids who remain in schools. Consequently education represents one of the most pressing and important challenges for Ivorian policy makers.
Rural-urban income disparities remain an important form of educational inequality and 46% of Ivorian children drop out of school after 12 years old, with a success rate of only 40% at the Baccalaureate versus 80-90% in France. Every year approximately 300k new young people join the ranks of the unemployed, a demographic that will inevitably increase.
Despite a strong need for a technically qualified workforce, only about 14% of the secondary school students attend vocational training schools. Comparatively, Switzerland (a global model for vocational training) has over 70% of its secondary students enrolled in technical and professional training courses.
The children who remain in Ivorian schools have difficulty in obtaining high levels of educational attainment, with the grand majority of the children in primary schools having medium to extremely low averages in math and French, which confirms a 2016 Brookings Institution study that found 41% of the children in third grade are not learning (which is very weak even in comparison to other West African countries).
All in all, the main challenges are a lack of resources (both on behalf of the government and families), compounded by poor teaching and academic preparations, limited outside school support for low-performing students, and a lack of motivation. Education is understandably not a priority compared to providing for family needs.
All of these challenges are also opportunities for improvement, and stakeholders in Côte d’Ivoire are turning to technology and the private sector to provide educational solutions that can improve the quality of life.
2. Leveraging technology and impact investing to deliver scalable solutions
For many local stakeholders whose focus it is to improve education, many see the strong potential to use new and scalable business models and disruptive innovations to improve access to or the delivery of quality education in the country. Contributors such as the Seedstars Academy hope to scale impactful educational resources, infrastructure and solutions that are able to deliver disruptive innovation via low-cost access and technology through its “venture builder”.
“Spending wiser is where we believe that private actors can have an impact. There is a need for better integration and cooperation with the corporate world and the Seedstars Academy intends to bridge that gap. The focus for the Ivorian company builder will involve using technology to reduce school administrative expenditures, supplies, and to improve the quality of educational delivery methods.” – David Collignon, Project Manager Seedstars Academy, Ivorian Venture Builders
As the focus on sustainability continues, foundations and organisations have begun pursuing philanthropic objectives in innovative and creative ways. The Jacobs Foundation’s TRECC program (Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities) has committed CHF 50 million to improve the quality of education in rural areas by working with a broad group of stakeholders – including the government, private companies, and civil society organizations – to strengthen the education ecosystem.
TRECC’s activities include support to the Seedstars Academy to build scalable education ventures in Côte d’Ivoire. It is through support to private sector actors such as Seedstars that it hopes to fulfill its vision that – with strong support from the Ivorian government – the country can become a hub for education enterprises to provide affordable market-based solutions and leverage technology to overcome resource gaps in education.
There is already a lot of promise in the country as the entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to develop. One local EdTech company Etudesk has created a web platform allowing academic institutions to easily set up their e-learning platform and to offer high quality courses.
“We are very passionate about improving education not only in the country, but in Africa. We really think that education has the power to improve people’s lives and why not start with the institutions first?” Lamine Barro founder of Etudesk.
Another example is Chalkboard Education, a Ghana-based startup is an example of a foreign startup working in Côte d’Ivoire. They offer plug-and-play mobile learning solutions to universities and nonprofits that work on any device without requiring an Internet connection.
Education will remain an ongoing challenge, however untold opportunities beckon in wake of technological progress, and entrepreneurs wishing to create an impact should consider Côte d’Ivoire as a destination for their initiatives.
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