First Published 23 June, 2024

Africa, projected to supply the world’s largest share of future workers by 2100, is at a critical juncture. With the United Nations forecasting its population to nearly quadruple to over four billion by the century’s end, Africa’s share of the global workforce is set to soar. By 2050, the continent is poised to contribute 23% of the world’s workers, rising to 45% by 2100. To harness this immense potential, the continent’s education technology (EdTech) needs to advance significantly.

However, funding constraints have hampered EdTech’s recent growth. Despite enjoying a peak funding year in 2021, attracting $81 million in investments, the number of funded tech companies in Africa fell from 29 in 2021 to just 23 the following year as the global economy stabilised post-COVID.

The growth of EdTech in Africa has been slow due to reluctance of many traditional venture capitalists(VCs) who are more “concerned with financial returns than social returns“.

Investment in EdTech startups in the last seven years. Chart by Stephen Agwaibor, TC Insights

Additional challenges include a limited access to digital tools for the population and a lack of essential infrastructure, such as reliable electricity necessary to support the growth of EdTech solutions. Furthermore, a significant portion of Africa’s population faces challenging macroeconomic conditions impacting their ability to afford even basic on-site education.

These challenges notwithstanding, UNESCO has recognised Africa as a burgeoning hub for EdTech. While funding has slowed, the sector is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1% by 2026, reaching an estimated value of $457.8 billion. Many innovators are optimistic about the breakthroughs in e-learning tools and digital infrastructure.

The role of accelerators in EdTech growth in Africa

Accelerators play a pivotal role in the startup ecosystem by providing models, funding, and mentorship that enable startup founders to validate, test, and achieve product-market fit for their models. This approach has proven critical to helping startups develop strong and clear pathways to monetise their products and become profitable.

Globally, there are numerous use cases of accelerators driving EdTech growth. For instance, K12, an EdTech accelerator programme in the US, has helped to launch more than 70 companies, which have collectively raised over $150 million in funding. In Australia, EduGrowth organises events and workshops where EdTech startups can showcase their products. Inspired by such models, countries like Nigeria are beginning to take notes, with organisations like the Mastercard Foundation stepping in to expedite EdTech’s progress on the continent.

Since its inception, the Mastercard Foundation has deployed approximately $3.7 billion to drive equitable access to learning for young people, primarily in Africa, in line with its vision of a world in which everyone has an opportunity to learn and prosper. In 2019, the Foundation established the Mastercard Foundation Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning, which focuses on unlocking the power of technology to deliver learning to all young Africans.

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In 2020, the Foundation launched an EdTech fellowship programme to support African-led companies. The first cohort of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship accelerated 12 fellows from seven African countries. By 2023, in response to heightened demand for EdTech solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic period, the Foundation—in partnership with CcHUB in Nigeria, iHub in Kenya and Injini in South Africa—accelerated 36 EdTech companies.

In 2024, five additional tech hubs are implementing the accelerator programme. In addition to the existing three, there are EtriLabs in Benin and Senegal, EdVentures in Egypt, Sahara Consult in Tanzania, Reach for Change in Ethiopia, and MEST Africa in Ghana. The fellowships provide selected founders in the EdTech sector with access to equity-free funding, business advisory support, and access to courses to help them scale and build impact. By nurturing homegrown solutions that address local needs and affordability concerns, the programme will be key to unlocking EdTech’s potential in Africa.

EdTech in Africa stands at a critical juncture. While traditional VC funding remains scarce, accelerators offer a lifeline. By fostering innovation, affordability, and local relevance, these programmes can empower African EdTech to fulfil its transformative promise and increase access to technology-enabled, relevant, and all-inclusive learning across the continent.

Today’s edition of Next Wave was contributed by Eliud Chemweno, Head, EdTech Ecosystems, Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning at the Mastercard Foundation.

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