The African Union (AU) considers education as a basic human right that Member States should recognise. Through Agenda 2063 Goal 2, the continent aspires to have well-educated citizens and a skills revolution underpinned by science, technology, and innovation (STI). As such, the AU’s mandates towards education include developing and harmonising education policies and programmes that can accomplish revitalised education systems. To accomplish the United Nation’s Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) 4, Africa’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) is encouraging transformative education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, research, innovation, and creativity that can nurture Africa’s core values and promote sustainable development. Quality education can facilitate socio-economic development through skills acquisition, job creation and financial dependence for Africa’s citizens.
Despite the ambitions and frameworks, some statistics show that AU Member States are still lagging in achieving quality basic education. For example, the African continent is estimated to have approximately 34 million non-primary school-going children. This is more than half the global number of non-primary school-going children. On the other hand, when analysing the implementation of the Agenda 2063 aspirations, it was reported that the African continent had registered a good performance in basic education. This was demonstrated by the increasing enrolment rates from 76.8% in 2013 to 80.8% in 2019. However, this was falling short of the 90.7% target of 2019.
One of the factors that have negatively impacted achieving quality basic education across the continent in some assessments is limited government spending. The Financial Times reports that the average of Africa’s governments spending on basic education currently stands at US$533 per primary school student annually.African governments are also devoting approximately 5% of their Gross Domestic Product to education, the second-highest region. As such, nearly half of African countries are spending the United Nation’s recommended education spending targets. Even though these numbers show that African countries are dedicating substantial resources towards education spending, the education spending doesn’t seem to directly correlate with basic education spending efficiency when viewed on a continental scale. Within the African continent, the southern African region has the highest education spending efficiency, while other parts of the continent are lagging. Consequently, Africa has a 58% efficiency for basic education, and this is significantly lower than the European Union, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and emerging and developing Europe.
Further to this, even though Africa governments’ spending on education is positively interrelated with average years of schooling, it does not adequately relate to Africa’s education quality. An example is the persistence of students in primary school in Africa sharing textbooks. UNESCO reports that an average of 14 students in Cameroon share the same mathematics textbook, five students share a textbook in Chad and South Sudan, and four students share a textbook in Equatorial Guinea. Such limitations can impede students learning independency, self-sufficiency, and efficiency, as they are without adequate resources suitable for quality basic education.
The underdeveloped infrastructure within Africa’s classrooms and laboratories have also resulted in the deteriorating standard of education across the continent. Huge class sizes negatively impact the learning environments and subsequently the learning outcomes within African basic education. For example, the average class size is currently exceeding 70 pupils per class in Malawi, the Central African Republic, and Tanzania.Unfortunately, with such huge classes, the lack of teachers persists, more especially science and mathematics teachers. This derails the quality of primary education across the African continent.
To address these challenges within basic education, the African Union High Panel on Innovation and Emerging Technologies (APET) encourages Member States to utilise digital technologies to support basic education. Digital technologies can equip African teachers with better tools to advance teaching methods and interaction with learners. This can be accomplished through accessing secure online platforms and class video call schedules using laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Tanzanian scientists and innovators have developed an Ubongo learning platform that is a useful digital educational tool. Ubongo is a social enterprise platform that creates interactive edutainment for young learners in Africa, which can be delivered through existing digital technologies. As such, Ubongo Kids is being utilised as a daily educational cartoon broadcast on Tanzanian National TV. This platform incites primary school kids by teaching them mathematics and sciences, utilising animated stories and original songs. In response, children can utilise basic mobile smartphones to answer multiple-choice questions via SMS and receive feedback from their favourite cartoon characters.
Nigerian educators have also developed the “Sterio.me” as a platform that provides educational service using SMS. It provides students access to material and lessons that they can listen to outside of the classroom. Teachers can pre-record lectures, quizzes and questions, and send them to the platform for free using a specific SMS code. Educators are subsequently notified when students have finished the lessons and thereafter receive the respective performance of their students. This platform facilitates the grading of students and can provide immediate feedback to students. “Sterio.me” does not require internet access and can be accessed through any basic phone. Interestingly, the “Sterio.me” is being expanded in southern African countries such as Lesotho to send lessons and quizzes to children and enable teachers to monitor progress.
Kenyan innovators have developed Eneza as an educational platform. Eneza acts as a virtual tutor and teacher’s assistant for thousands of Kenyan students. Kenyan students can access educational quizzes, access Wikipedia offline, dictionaries, and other learning materials through an SMS. This platform is best suited for Kenya’s upper primary grades students to prepare for their entry at secondary school levels adequately. Furthermore, by using the high-quality content platform, students can enhance their knowledge.
Upscaling such digital platforms aimed towards primary school education through the domestication of science, technology, and innovation strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) aspirations can enhance the education sector. Such measures can also address the student-teacher ratio currently facing the continent as these digital technologies expand access to basic education. Implementing digital technologies across the continent can significantly improve budget efficiencies and have far-reaching impacts on domesticated e-learning teaching and learning platforms. In addition, teachers can effectively implement blended learning and teaching approaches through digital technologies to enhance the quality of basic education