Africa must invest in remote digital education

"Education has always been the background of any successful society, the more we can focus on that, the more we can drive education, the better off you have economic development. And one of the biggest challenges we're going to have in Africa is the shortage of teachers," says Shane Wall, HP's CTO and global head of HP Labs.

Wall delivered a presentation at this year's Responsible Business Forum on sustainable development, held in Johannesburg last week during which he urged companies to focus on providing remote digital education to solve Africa's education crises and teacher shortage.

Providing digital, innovative and remote education was one of the key highlights discussed at the forum, which brought together various stakeholders including international business, government and NGO leaders on workshops on how to accelerate inclusive growth and deliver UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Huawei South Africa's deputy CEO Jacky Zhang said technology will drive sustainable growth, to counter African challenges. "While the goals are wide-ranging, they have one thing in common: they all rely on the enabling power of technology."

Referencing Huawei's 2017 ICT Sustainable Development Goals Benchmark report, Zhang said research showed a 90% correlation between ICT investment and progress in meeting six key SDGs. These goals include good health and well-being, quality education, smart cities and communities and climate action.

"ICT, especially fast connectivity, can create new learning platforms and make radical improvements in the quality and availability of education." He said these technologies include game based learning or Gamification, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

"Artificial intelligence will create new teaching programs, particularly this; it will be able to bring education to students with disabilities. In addition, digital services can help solve the shortage of teaching material and expertise in poor or remote areas. Services can include e-books, online courses and libraries, and online teaching," he said.

Crises in Africa's education

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of educational exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14.

UNESCO's Institute for Statistics (UIS) says almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school. "Without urgent action, the situation will likely get worse as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population."

According to HP's Wall, by 2030, Africa will have more kids under the age of ten than the entire US population; whereby there will also be a shortage of six million primary school teachers.

Connectivity is crucial

Huawei's Zhang said there is a major shortage of communication towers in many of Africa's rural areas and more can be done in South Africa to provide more coverage.

"The first step to get people empowered, secondly, provide them with even better connectivity."