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A survey of African education institutions: coping with the Covid-19 crisis

The Covid-19 health crisis has hit the education sector hard, from early childhood to vocational training, with school closures and distance learning. We surveyed some thirty African educational institutions to…

The Covid-19 health crisis has hit the education sector hard, from early childhood to vocational training, with school closures and distance learning. We surveyed some thirty African educational institutions to understand the impacts of the crisis and the coping strategies put in place by those most affected.

 

A brief methodological overview

This article is based on a survey conducted among 36 African educational institutions.

Respondents are mostly based in West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin), but also from Cameroon and Madagascar. Respondents operate in a wide variety of business segments: vocational training, higher education, early childhood, primary education, secondary education, Ed-tech (educational technology), and ancillary activities (publishing, printing, etc.).

 

Financing is a key issue

It comes as no surprise that the health crisis presents a significant challenge to the educational institutions surveyed. 53% of them report a negative impact, and 13% have even experienced a shutdown of their activities. The early childhood sector is the most affected by the crisis (See also our article: “Covid-19: what impacts on the early childhood sector?’’)

The main challenge for these institutions is financial, because of the difficulty of recovering school fees during school closures, in addition to the constant cost of school personnel and operations. The cash flow challenge is the one most often mentioned by respondents, ahead of human resources and production challenges, for example [see graph 1]. Nearly 60% of educational institutions have experienced a drop in revenue due to the health crisis.

What are your main challenges today?

The current situation, and in particular the sudden closure of schools, has highlighted the lack of infrastructure adapted to connectivity, at national level but also within educational institutions themselves (lack of equipment, adapted classrooms, etc.).

 

The adaptation to the crisis and the growing role of digital

The sudden closure of schools has forced the vast majority of educational institutions to adapt and rethink their offer and operating methods. Some have even developed a new offer. This is the case of KËR Imagination, which has developed tools for parents to help them accompany their children at home. These changes were undertaken urgently in the context of an unprecedented situation, but could become permanent for 47% of the institutions surveyed.

The most obvious of these changes is the use of digital technology and the development of online learning. 60% of respondents used a digital platform as a response to the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis and the abrupt closure of schools.

We also note that these platforms had to be set up urgently for many educational institutions, which did not have any specific digital tools before the crisis. Multiple challenges had to be overcome: adapting educational content, maintaining student motivation, adapting academic deadlines… [See graph n°2]. It was also necessary to propose innovative solutions to students with connectivity problems and those who could not work from home.

The main challenges in setting up a digital platform

The transition to digital has proven to be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement for some institutions, particularly in early childhood or vocational training, for which distance learning was not an option. Most of these institutions have implemented small groups to ensure social distancing. This answer was efficient but implied a lot of logistics: reorganization of the space, purchase of masks and hydroalcoholic gel, disinfection between each group…

 

What will remain of this emergency adaptation in the medium and long term?

47% of respondents consider that digitalization had a positive impact on the content provided:

  • Digitalization has urged some structures to develop new offers, and thus propose more diversified contents
  • The move to digital technology has made it possible to reach a wider audience, in particular by introducing continuing education offerings that are accessible to professionals (who need great flexibility) and by expanding the geographic scope
  • Digitalization has increased the capacity of training institutions, with less pressure on the physical infrastructure

 

On the other hand, no educational institution plans to use only e-learning in the near future. However, a blended learning model, combining e-learning and in-class learning, could become widespread in a large number of educational institutions [see graph 3].

How do you envisage the future organization of your company?

 

To conclude

⇒ The education sector is strongly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. This is particularly the case for the early childhood sub-sector.

The main challenge for these institutions is financial, because of the difficulty of recovering school fees during school closures, in addition to the constant cost of school personnel and operations, resulting in a real working capital problem and significant cash flow pressures.

The current situation, and in particular the sudden closure of schools, has highlighted the lack of infrastructure adapted to connectivity (lack of equipment, adapted classrooms, etc.).

While digital has been represented several times as a response to the Covid-19 crisis, it should be noted that it does not represent a long-term learning option for these institutions. It is rather blended learning that could become widespread.

⇒ The actors interviewed seem optimistic that the current situation will return to “normal”. Nevertheless, the sector is still mixed on the permanence of the changes made.

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Entrepreneurship for a better tomorrow in Guinea

Kouramoudou Magassouba presents the NGO Horizons d’Afrique, which he launched in 2017 to promote social entrepreneurship among Guinean youth.  Entrepreneurship is not – or should not be – limited to…

Kouramoudou Magassouba presents the NGO Horizons d’Afrique, which he launched in 2017 to promote social entrepreneurship among Guinean youth. 

Entrepreneurship is not – or should not be – limited to wealth creation alone. Starting an entrepreneurial project is above all about passion, creativity, strongly believing in a project. The NGO Horizons d’Afrique has been promoting this message since 2017 to Guinean students, so as to train a new generation of young entrepreneurs who are aware of social and environmental issues.

I launched The NGO a few years after my return to Guinea, in a context of latent economic and social crisis (high unemployment rate, especially among young people, illegal emigration). In 2010, I started teaching at a private university in Conakry while working at the Central Bank of the Republic of Guinea. Working directly with young scholars, confused about their futures and very much in need of advice, opened my eyes and pushed me to take action. Because if some government initiatives exist in this area, they are largely insufficient for the moment…

With former students and banking sector professionals, we launched Horizons of Africa to promote the learning of entrepreneurial skills. We do everything in our power to ensure that students are better prepared to enter the entrepreneurial world when they leave school. this cannot be learned in a day!

 

Promoting Entrepreneurial Spirit in Guinea

Horizons d’Afrique’s ambition is to build a community of at least 1,000 young entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs by 2025, capable of creating sustainable jobs.

We say “intrapreneurs” because we are aware that not everyone can or wants to be an entrepreneur. However, we believe anyone can develop entrepreneurial qualities, such as creativity, innovation, or organization. We can offer employees the tools and opportunities to create and innovate. In other words, we can train them to act as entrepreneurs within the company.

 

Launching impactful companies in Guinea

Our programs are open to all young people. They are designed to promote entrepreneurial qualities and values that we believe are fundamental for the society as a whole. Today there are about 6,000 new businesses created yearly in Guinea, but most of them are individual companies and do not create any jobs.

We advocate three key values in particular:

  • Empathy: we encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of others and imagine possible solutions to Guinea’s major social and environmental challenges.
  • Optimism: we promote students’ empowerment and “positive mental attitude”
  • Performance: to create positive impacts on the long-run, a company must be sustainable. The economic model of the company must therefore be viable and generate wealth.

 

Developing programs that address local needs

Horizons d’Afrique has developed a range of programs, depending on the target audiences (high schools, universities, technical schools…). They all provide support to young people who are starting (or are willing to start) an entrepreneurial project. We have built a strong network and we are now able to offer shared resources and skills. For example, we have set up a common technical team (accounting, communication) for the several startups supported by our programs.

With the technical assistance of Pierre ALZINGRE, founder of the Visionari Agency and Start’Up Lycée in France, we concluded in June the first edition of our program “Start’Up Lycée GouTina”, specifically dedicated to high school students. Ten public and private institutions took part in this competition. The students worked throughout the year on entrepreneurial initiatives related to the Sustainable Development Goals. Each working group (made up of ten high school students, including at least four girls per group) was accompanied by a team of three people: a teacher, an NGO staff member and a professional entrepreneur.

 

Conclusion

Throughout my academic and professional career, in Guinea, Morocco and France, I witnessed on many occasions the importance of educating and training young people, so that this new generation can do something constructive for their lives and the development of their country. With African Horizons, we are working as closely as possible with young people to make this possible. Sharing skills and experience is essential. Knowledge is only knowledge if it shared with other people!

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