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African schools: facing the covid-19 crisis

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of…

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of the world’s students [1].

Since mid-March, a large proportion of African schools and universities have closed their doors. However, these closures do not mean that teaching activities have come to a complete cessation. Whether public, private or supported by associations, all institutions are trying to do their best to provide transitional solutions so that pupils can continue their schooling and so that the precious learning time is not lost for good.

The group Investisseurs & Partenaires, which supports some fifteen companies in the education sector, can testify the strong resilience and innovative spirit of these actors. From nurseries to high schools and training centers, these companies are showing that they can adapt their business during a crisis that is hitting them hard. This article is largely based on I&P’s portfolio, but also includes some other noteworthy initiatives.

 

E-learning: an obvious choice?

In order to ensure continuity of teaching activities, many institutions rely on e-learning systems. This is for example the case of Enko Education’s network of high schools, whose courses have been taking place since the end of March on a new online platform. Following the creation of a crisis committee, new working methods have also been introduced. Teachers must now ensure that each student has daily access to the resources needed to follow the courses, either in digital format or by printing the booklets sent to the families[2]. In the early childhood sector, where screen time must be limited, it is the relationship between parents and pre-school structures that needs to be reinvented. Thanks to social networks, newsletter, WhatsApp groups and other communication media, specialist companies, such as Ker Imagination in Senegal [3], can support parents to promote good practice at home and strengthen the learning community.

Some educational companies made distance learning the core of their model long before the crisis. The startup Etudesk, based in Abidjan and supported by Comoé Capital, has thus developed valuable expertise in building tailor-made e-learning platforms with various partners. Today, Etudesk supports about ten educational institutions in Ivory Coast and Senegal to adapt and put online their pedagogical content in the best possible time and conditions. African Management Institute builds distance and face-to-face training courses for entrepreneurs and SMEs in East Africa. AMI currently provides a free “survival kit” to entrepreneurs to learn crisis management and make the right decisions in the face of serious risks to their business [4]. Another exciting example is the Mali-based company Kabakoo, which is exploring a new model of engineering training that focuses on “solutions to concrete and immediate problems” in its environment. Kabakoo is now making its international platform available for its learners and experts to design and manufacture objects useful in the fight against Coronavirus, such as artificial respirators and masks [5]. With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, Etudesk, AMI and Kabakoo are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational players as well as to companies and citizens.

With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, these companies are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational player

 

Connectivity, cost and learning conditions: the challenges of home schooling

However, the good practices that are emerging here and there face many difficulties. In West Africa, household connectivity is not provided in large rural or isolated areas [6]. In addition to the challenges of Internet coverage, there is also the issue of the cost involved for consulting these tools online. Other channels are thus necessary and several initiatives are underway to improve the inclusion of education systems in the time of the coronavirus and to limit the risks of school dropout [7]. National radio stations and television channels can be massive solutions for disseminating educational content [8], provided that there is enhanced cooperation between the ministries concerned and the telecom company, as it is the case in Ivory Coast [9].

On the other hand, it will be necessary to ensure that pupils can study under good conditions and with assiduity, which is in fact the major issue on which e-learning offers little information for the moment. A fundamental reflection on the role of teachers and on distance teaching methods must be carried out to accompany the development of educational technologies.

 

Economic impacts are immediate and lasting

Finally, the coronavirus crisis poses a very strong threat to the financial sustainability of companies in this sector. With a complete revenue freeze that could last until September, educational companies must seek to maintain a good relationship with all their stakeholders, especially their employees. Specific measures can be envisaged in the short term, such as adjusting cash flow plans, eliminating non-essential charges, prioritizing creditors, etc. For the most robust institutions, these measures will undoubtedly be sufficient and will probably be in addition to the benevolent support of banking partners. But for a majority of the more vulnerable private players, additional and significant support measures will be absolutely necessary for their survival. Governments, donors, investors and all education financers will have to provide appropriate responses as quickly as possible.

 

The opportunity to transform education

The current experience is unprecedented. The educational enterprises best prepared for the crisis were those that had integrated, even if incompletely, the challenge of digital transformation into their model. Thus, the coronavirus crisis provides the entire education sector with perhaps an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

Broadening access to content, opening up populations, developing new services, individualizing educational pathways, building new learning communities: the potential of digital education is considerable, both for the company and for its beneficiaries. After today’s emergency, it will undoubtedly be time for all those involved in the education sector to re-imagine their model while keeping the issues of accessibility, inclusion and quality at the heart of their principles.

The current crisis provides the entire education sector with an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

 

 

Notes

[1] Informations de l’UNESCO au 7 avril 2020 https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-launches-codethecurve-hackathon-develop-digital-solutions-response-covid-19

[2] https://enkoeducation.com/fr_FR/covid-19-and-school-closings-enko-education-implements-distance-learning-in-all-its-schools-across-africa/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/KerImagiNation/

[4] https://www.africanmanagers.org/all/news/keep-thriving-ami-learning-covid-19/

[5] https://www.kabakoo.africa/blog/une-bonne-vieille-machine-a-coudre-et-du-fil-contre-covid-19

[6] Voir par exemple l’indice de connectivité développé par GMSA montrant les déficits d’infrastructure et de connectivité dans la zone Afrique de l’Ouest https://www.mobileconnectivityindex.com/#year=2018

[7] Voir les risques soulignés par Jeune Afrique au Sénégal : https://www.jeuneafrique.com/922593/societe/senegal-les-bons-et-les-mauvais-points-de-lecole-a-distance-au-temps-du-coronavirus/

[8] Voici les différents canaux d’enseignement à distance recensés par le GPE : https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/school-interrupted-4-options-distance-education-continue-teaching-during-covid-19#.XoXPayoKbqI.linkedin

[9] Voir ici l’initiative du gouvernement ivoirien qui a démarré le 6 avril 2020 pour les classes d’examens (CM2, 3ème, Terminal). http://www.gouv.ci/_actualite-article.php?recordID=11002

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Understanding the tech ecosystem in Francophone Africa

For several years now, the growth of the African continent has largely relied on the growth of the French-speaking countries. According to the World Bank’s World Economic Outlook report, the…

For several years now, the growth of the African continent has largely relied on the growth of the French-speaking countries. According to the World Bank’s World Economic Outlook report, the economic growth rate of French-speaking African countries was 4.9% over the period 2012-2018, compared to 2.9% for the rest of the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Guinea, with their young and rapidly growing populations, are among the fastest growing economies in Africa. Francophone Africa is also one of the youngest sub-regions in the world, with an average age of 15 years in Niger, for example. In parallel with these economic and demographic developments, the penetration rate of mobile phones, which is still lower than that of English-speaking countries, is increasing.

In this rapidly changing environment, what are the challenges for the technological ecosystem of French-speaking Africa?

Every year the investment group Seedstars produces an Index to measure the quality, potential and maturity of technological ecosystems in the 75 emerging markets in which it operates, as well as a platform to identify and train entrepreneurs in emerging countries. Three pillars are analyzed: opportunities, environment, and culture.

 

Culture: mindset and community

The third pillar of the Index, culture, is often the most difficult to define. It takes into account criteria such as the density of entrepreneurs, the number of events related to entrepreneurship, the presence of start-ups in the media, the collaboration between the actors of the ecosystem and the number of success stories….

While there are significant differences between all countries in the region, the Index generally gives a low rating to the entrepreneurial culture of French-speaking countries.

“Ivorian students are more attracted to jobs in the civil service and large companies. Entrepreneurship ranks 3rd in their career choice” – Mohamed Aly Bakayoko, Founder of Unikjob in Côte d’Ivoire

The good news is that significant progress is ongoing.

The spirit of creativity and rebellion, which are necessary ingredients for any technological ecosystem, are present in French-speaking Africa.

We often hear about the lack of successful entrepreneurs in the region, but several startups have already proven that French-speaking countries can create innovative and high-growth models. To quote a few exemples: In Senegal, Coin Afrique has raised €2.5 million in 2018 and has more than 400,000 active monthly users, Intouch has raised about €10 million in 2017 and developed its activities in 7 countries.

 

An environment that is becoming more business-friendly?

Although the business climate is not considered ideal, some countries such as Côte d’Ivoire (moving from 167th in 2012 to 122nd in 2019 in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking) or Benin (from 175th to 153rd in 2019) have made decisive progress.

Several governments are trying to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs. For example, the Ivorian government has developed a National Plan to support ICTs, in order to simplify the creation of technology companies (by 2020). In Senegal, a $50 million start-up fund, the DER, aims to catalyze entrepreneurship throughout the country. This initiative is intended to be a real tool for the economic empowerment of women and youth. The fund will provide funding, training and technical assistance to its targets.

 

Dynamic ecosystems: training and mentoring programs

The number of innovators seems to be increasing considerably. In still unstructured ecosystems such as Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more and more ambitious actors are emerging. For example, Ingenious City, an incubation platform launched in May 2018 in Kinshasa, is doing a lot of work to promote entrepreneurship and provide appropriate content.

It is interesting to note the growing link with European ecosystems, particularly in France, through programmes such as Afric’Innov, a community of incubators launched by the French Development Agency. In addition, important international and pan-African initiatives are taking root in French-speaking countries, building bridges with English-speaking or Portuguese-speaking countries (for example, MEST, Impact Hub, Orange Corners or Seedstars).

An initiative such as Afrique Excelle, supported by the World Bank, focuses specifically on French-speaking countries, and supports some of the best digital companies in French-speaking Africa. This program will be mainly in French. Indeed, language itself is often cited as a barrier, as most of the online content available to train entrepreneurs is in English.

 

Investments to be closely monitored

In its latest 2019 report, Partech confirms Senegal’s position as the market leader in French-speaking Africa, with its $22 million raised in four deals. However, the French-speaking African market stagnated, with $54.3 million raised, a similar increase to the previous year’s results.

Some positive signals are to be noted: investors such as Partech and ODV have decided to set up in French-speaking countries, which brings them closer to these ecosystems. Africinvest, a private equity fund with several offices in French-speaking African countries, has announced the creation of a venture capital fund for startups in Africa. Similarly, Seedstars, which has a hub in Abidjan, has just announced the launch of its $100 million fund for African start-ups.

The Francophone African Investors Summit held at the end of March in Bamako attracted several hundred participants, including investors, politicians, support structures and entrepreneurs, strengthening the positive dynamics of the ecosystem.

 

In conclusion

Francophone African countries are definitely emerging as countries to be considered in the technology sector, whether as entrepreneurs to launch their projects or as investors to support this promising ecosystem.

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