Education takes centre stage in conversations about Africa’s prosperity. The rationale for that is simple; formal education, especially at post-secondary levels, exposes its embracers to a world in demand of the knowledge hedged within the walls of tertiary institutions. This is why, a few decades ago, Africans who were able to obtain university degrees were almost certain of a brighter future. But that is not the case now. 

More African graduates are waking to the reality of the huge lacuna between university lectures and real-world expectations. Numerous African universities still operate with decades-old curricula, making a continent-wide case for alternative digital learning programs that are fresh, less bureaucratic, and optimised for flexible learning.

At the back of this, the world of work continues to emphasise skills over degrees; skills which are obtainable these days by a commitment to specialised digital learning courses. 

A university degree or a course on Udemy?

About a decade ago, launching a career without a traditional university degree would seem like a convenient way to fail at life. But that is far from the case today. Thousands of Africans are now exploring digital courses as alternatives to the conventional tertiary academic system. And interestingly, it seems to be working for a good number of them. 

AltSchool Africa, a pan-African edtech startup that offers Africans a route to internationally recognised certifications, was born on the cusp of changing consumer behaviour toward tertiary degrees. Through AltSchool’s one-year learning program, hundreds of Africans have been able to obtain diplomas and land roles at global companies. 

“More Africans need to know that digital learning is one of the only hopes we have today. Digital learning offers Africans the opportunity to catch up with the world and stay prepared for the future,” AltSchool’s cofounder, Adewale Yusuf, said to TechCabal.

“While traditional institutions are doing a great job, the problem of obsolete curricula persists and digital learning helps to bring an end to that even as it reaches more people. In a fast-changing world characterised by artificial intelligence and advanced technology, digital learning will help Africans get ready for the future of work,” Yusuf added. 

Justice Nefe, an experienced software engineer and founder of Borderless HQ, maintains that going through traditional academic institutions does not guarantee a shot at life. 

“A successful career, especially in tech, is not tied to university degrees. You can upskill with specialised courses and get your head in the game,” he said on a call with TechCabal.

Nefe’s words point to his life reality; the tech CEO never went through any tertiary education course himself. 

While digital learning in Africa may yet be in its adolescence, it represents the future of learning on the continent. About 20 sub-Saharan governments have signed up with the African Virtual University (AVU), a pan-African effort to democratise learning through the internet, to establish e-learning as a long-term strategy for the development of their countries’ education sectors. 

Again, in a continent largely comprised of young people and digital natives, the odds are high that digital learning will become the preferred learning experience for students. Accordingly, traditional institutions would have to evolve to incorporate the flexibility of digital learning, as they did when the COVID pandemic rocked the continent. 

Building communities to foster success 

For a lot of digital natives, it is in embracing digital learning that they realise how demanding it can be to follow through with it.  Six out of 10 learners on Udemy confirmed to TechCabal that completing their online courses sometimes proves to be difficult and takes longer than their original estimation. 

AltSchool’s Yusuf agrees that completing courses on digital platforms can be a drag, mostly because it thrives solely on the motivation of the student. As a solution, his company leverages the one thing traditional academic systems thrive on: communities.

“At AltSchool, we understand that it takes a lot of motivation to complete courses. So we built our solution around learning communities, and this has helped learners to complete their courses. Now, we are graduating one of the largest cohorts of online learners from our school of engineering,” he proudly said.

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