A TechCabal roundup about the
impact of the coronavirus pandemic
on Africa’s tech industry

MAY 31, 2020
This newsletter is a weekly special focused on the effect of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 on African tech and innovation ecosystems. Subscribe here to get it directly in your inbox every Sunday at 3 pm WAT.

Hello,

Parents are not exactly thrilled by eLearning. Most have been forced into the role of assistant teachers; helping with setup, assisting with actual classes and homework.

All these,
coupled with full-time jobs and having to manage other aspects of life,
isn’t exactly fun for these adults.

Beyond the effects of eLearning on parent-child relationships, there are intricacies and nuances of this aspect of edtech in the African context.

During this pandemic, there has been buzz around eLearning as the ultimate saviour of education. But most of this excitement does not consider the challenges that have hampered the adoption of eLearning models across the continent, and these issues have not evaporated.

Today, using two countries in East and West Africa; Kenya and Nigeria as
examples, we will explore these hidden lines and see eLearning from an African perspective; realities, challenges, and a possible solution.

Students trying out online learning. Credit: Siyavula Education
WHAT’S HAPPENING

A lack of infrastructure & an economic divide
In April, following lockdowns across the country, Nigeria’s Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu directed universities to reopen virtually. This idea was as laudable as it was unfeasible.

In response, citing insufficient funding of public universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) asked its members not to submit lecture notes for eLearning or participate in virtual meetings.

In a Sahara Reporters interview, the union’s president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi said ASUU does not fundamentally object to eLearning, but that its members are ill-equipped.

“What we object to is that the Nigerian government is shying away from the reality
that we have not provided the environment that will support e-learning. E-learning has many dimensions; the fact that they asked people to upload their notes and they send to the student via email does not define e-learning.”

Now, it is important to note that ASUU is in a labour tussle with the Nigerian government over salary structures and is concurrently embarked on one of its signature strikes, and because of this, Ogunyemi’s stance might be coloured with bias.

Except that it isn’t.

Students from the few government-owned institutions that are not participating in the ASUU strike say a lack of proper infrastructure has reduced their online learning experience to perfunctory.

The Kenyan experience is also painfully similar.

In March, abrupt lockdowns necessitated by the pandemic forced some 17
million students to stay home and learn digitally, and provisions were supposedly made for this.

To prevent disruption of the school calendar and curriculum delivery, the education ministry introduced electronic and digital lessons dubbed “Out of Classroom Learning”. The project was designed and is being implemented by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) on radio, TV, computer and smartphone,” the Daily Nation reported.

However, a widely cited
study in May by an NGO for quality education, Usawa Agenda highlights a massive infrastructural deficit; 78% of the population did not have access to these learning channels.

One important finding from the study was that public schools are least equipped for eLearning.

…with nine out of 10 school heads interviewed estimating that less than 30 percent of their schools have any measures in place to reach children with the required learning materials.”

This is also the case in Nigeria as learning has continued unabated in most privately owned learning institutions.

In March, all the subjects of a TechCabal report on how teachers were leveraging edtech were from private schools.

All these lead to the fact that there is an exclusion and marginalization of students along economic lines.

The problem
Africa is mobile-first, and smartphones have largely replaced computers. And even though smartphone adoption and internet connectivity are growing astronomically, they are still not widespread enough.

According to a 2016 GSMA study (pdf) on the barriers to mobile internet adoption;

“Africa is the least developed region in the world for mobile connectivity and adoption. Of a total population of 1.2 billion, only 565 million (47%) are using mobile services. Internet adoption lags further behind, with only 303 million people (25% of the region’s population) accessing the internet via mobile. Adoption rates are noticeably weaker in Sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile penetration is just 43% and mobile internet penetration just 23%.”

Some of the reasons for the low penetration are lack of digital skills and awareness, lack of locally relevant content, and affordability.

A lack of digital skills followed by affordability are the two largest barriers to mobile internet adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa. Source: GSMA Intelligence.

Over the years, the other issues are slowly being tackled, but affordability is still a problem. Most people cannot afford smartphones, and when they can, internet prices make connectivity a
luxury.

As eLearning has primarily been delivered through the internet, most students are unable to keep up.

Now, how about accessing other channels with lower entry barriers?

The solution
Without the strictest measures in place, school environments can be the biggest breeding grounds for COVID-19. So it is unwise to physically open just yet.

But learning must continue, most especially for those not in private schools.

In the long term, the obvious answers are cheaper phones and internet access, better infrastructure for public educational institutions. And hopefully, this
pandemic will catalyse governmental involvement in these areas.

But until then, radio and television are the quickest answers to this problem as they are easier to access. Even in places without electricity, battery-powered transistor radios are a feature of most African homes in rural and peri-urban areas.

Gratefully, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) listed these two as learning avenues and, going by the TV and radio timetables on its website for the month of May, seems to be keeping up.

KICD says it conducted a study and students were utilising these channels;

“From the survey, 70% of the respondents reported that they had watched a lesson on TV. Similarly, 60% of the respondents reported that they had listened to radio lessons, while 30% had accessed the Kenya Education Cloud. We shall publish the findings.”

This is interesting, except that KICD’s TV and radio programmes are not targeted at students from tertiary institutions. There are no provisions for them, yet.

In Nigeria, the reverse seems to be the case. In April, the Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu said;

“….there is an ongoing effort for students in higher institutions to receive lectures via the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).”

Both NTA and FRCN are owned by the government and have nationwide reach. However, as at press time, nothing has been heard of these plans, even though the minister said they had been in the works long before the pandemic.

And so for eLearning, the myriads of problems continue as far as the eyes can see.

For Africa, it is clear that executing eLearning via radio and TV may not be easy-peasy too. But if done right, it will be the most effective and equitable means of distributing learning in a pandemic.

FROM THE CABAL

As lockdowns ease, will it be business as usual for co-working spaces?
As many countries in Africa respond to the threat of coronavirus with lockdowns and several restrictions, coworking spaces are one of the hardest hit. There are concerns that some users may not return as they adapt to working from home. Operators are counting on a sense of community to bring them back.

In Rwanda, it is
goodbye to cash for fares.
According to an announcement by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), cashless payments will now be the only way for motorcycle taxi operators to receive payments from customers. “All motorcyclists in Kigali are required to use meters and cashless payments such as MTN MoMo or Airtel Money,” the announcement said.

NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Uber UK launches feature to help drivers find temp gigs.
The ride-hailing giant launched Work Hub a new feature within its app to help drivers find temporary work opportunities with other companies and third-party providers. The goal is to offer alternative revenue sources to drivers whose earnings have been hit by the pandemic.

Waymo’s self-driving cars return to San Francisco Bay Area roads. After initially halting its public testing in early March because of the coronavirus outbreak, the autonomous minivans will return to the road delivering packages for two Bay Area nonprofits. The ban on non-essential travel that caused Waymo to take its cars off the road is still in
place. The company appears to have side-stepped the order by doing deliveries.

WHAT WE ARE READING

What is Essential When Building a Startup? Covid-19 Just Showed Me.
“For the first time in my career, I engaged some key hires without meeting in person, but managed to develop that trust over a Zoom high-five,” second-time founder, Suman Kanuganti, cofounder at Luther.ai shared in this Medium article.

Why Startups Should Become ‘Camels’–Not Unicorns–During COVID-19. “A string of recently failed IPOs raised a red flag on the mythical unicorn,” argues Matthew Cowan, a general partner at Siemens-backed venture firm, Next47. “Soon, unicorns will become myths once more as we see the rise of the camel,” Cowan adds.

Best wishes for a great week

Stay safe and please observe all the guidelines provided by health experts.

You can subscribe to our TC Daily Newsletter; the most comprehensive roundup of technology news on the continent, and have it delivered to your inbox every weekday at 7 am WAT.

Follow TechCabal on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay updated on tech and innovation in Africa.

– Victor Ekwealor, Managing Editor, TechCabal

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