Co-creation Hub’s network of technology centres is shaping into an innovation galaxy. At their design lab in Kigali, product designers and engineers are applying emerging technologies across multiple disciplines, from healthcare to governance. In Kenya, the newly acquired iHUB bolsters the company’s support and strategy architecture.

While they add to cumulative innovation capital on the continent,  the East African centres serve an immediate ecosystem of about a hundred million people.

But the newly launched edtech centre at The Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED) aims to play a role in a big agenda: improve Nigeria’s education landscape through innovation. A number of factors could make it a pivotal milestone for the social enterprise and Africa’s struggling giant.

Location, location

TASUED is located in Ijebu Ode. An ancient Yoruba town in Ogun state, it is about a two-hour drive to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub.

Debilitating traffic and rising population density make Lagos virtually unlivable. But proximity to its international markets is crucial for scaling ideas. Siting an innovation hub close enough to Lagos allows easy diffusion of ideas between industry actors and the centre’s researchers. At the same time, it is well removed from the bustle to allow for the concentration deep research requires.

Economics of specialization

In contrast to a wave of generalist tech hubs around the country, the edtech ‘centre of excellence’ is designed to focus on education innovation. That means its researchers will be delving into what makes for good teaching technology, the mechanics of modern curriculum development, and adaption to special-needs children among other things. Bosun Tijani, CcHUB’s co-founder, tells us to expect accelerated “application of innovation and technology in improving education outcomes”.

Who knows? They may break new ground in yet-to-be-discovered areas of learning. 

An economy’s ability to breed specialists is crucial for long-lasting innovation and productivity. What was true for Adam Smith’s bakers and butchers still applies for 21st-century auto mechanics, front-end developers and natural language processing scientists. However, Nigeria’s 55% unemployment and underemployment rate is an indicator of historic negligence in empowering its working population towards productive ends. 

This damning reality is not helped by the 13 million children who are out of school without meaningful hope for an increasingly uncertain future. Paying rigorous, scientific attention to the menace could prove the nutcracker. 

Flexible local content for local problems

In 2008, Shannon May and Jay Kimmelman founded Bridge International academies. Intended as a chain of low-cost, data-driven private schools offering quality education, it runs or supports over 1000 schools across Africa and Asia. 

The concept, a decade old and thriving, has not been without controversy: teachers are required to strictly use specific lesson delivery methods that some say are robotic and lacking in imagination. However, Bridge seems to be improving on the baseline in places where it has sited or run schools in Nigeria.

When thinking up learning solutions, you can’t go wrong with researching and adapting technology to the people. The novelty of CcHUB’s centre would be in matching a technology approach to globally competitive education with cultural peculiarities and quirks that do not apply in Western societies. There is a world of work to be done to raise the Nigerian student to the computational levels of South Korean and Singaporean students, but the route to that destination does not have to be the same. 

Essentially, the point of a centre of excellence and innovation hub is to justify why we should follow best practices – like abolishing ranking students’ results – while avoiding pitfalls prevalent in those acclaimed super education nations.

Competition in edtech will blossom

Besides fostering academic research and forging a community of edtech enthusiasts, CcHUB’s centre will be in the business of incubating early-stage EdTech startups. Competition may not be good for children in school (this isn’t settled science) but anyone with an idea to make money in education should have to prove her concept beats that of the lady next door.

Are VCs and angel investors interested in the business of African education? You bet they are.

From extended reality firm Imisi 3D to mobile learning management company MShule, education-technology is gaining recognition as a catalyst for building Africa’s economy. It might be the complexity of behavioural and technical expertise required to run them but edtechs are interesting for investors looking to mix social impact with reasonable returns. 

TechCabal will focus the searchlight on this in a townhall this November, featuring elaborate discussions on the growing industry and the future of work.                                     

Alexander Onukwue Author

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