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admin | Category: Ed Treatment San Antonio | 21.09.2015
The educational system in Africa used to be the envy of the western world, but what has changed?
At one stage I read about the University of Sierra Leone (Fourah Bay College) not being able to provide the paper for students to write their exams on – this was a shocker and eye-opener for me!
After looking at the trend across Africa, and most especially in Sierra Leone where I have taken a critical look at the present system, I believe that the insistence on education based on meritocracy (students advance purely on merit) should be encourage as this will lead to equity.
The influence of politicians in formulating policies about education without consulting educators and bureaucrats’ does not help in tackling the issues education is facing.
For example, in Singapore universities charge full fees, and give scholarships to low-income students.  The government encourages private donations to universities, matching them one-for-one. Few parents can look forward with much glee to an evening spent poring over the accounts of their child’s school at the monthly Parent Teacher Association meeting. An eye-opening study from Transparency International’s Africa Education Watch (AEW) programme has found that 44% of parents still report paying some kind of school registration fees for their children, despite laws making primary education free. The average fee was $4.16 per child per year in the seven countries surveyed (Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda) – all of which promise free primary education.
Laws making primary schooling free have brought some of the most sweeping changes to Africa’s education systems.
This is despite an ongoing policy shift in Africa to decentralise education, handing over power to local and district authorities and communities. Doubts also linger about the ability of even the more efficient SMCs to oversee the complex budgetary requirements of a school and help get more money into the classrooms. These findings chime with new research from the World Bank, whose 2010 Africa Development Indicators highlight the ‘quiet corruption’ seeping through daily life on the continent’. Research in 2004 found 20% of primary school teachers in rural western Kenya could not be found during school hours. In the short term it affects school results: a 2007 study in Zambia found that if a teacher is absent for one day a month, it reduces tests scores in maths and English by 4-8%. A policy proposed in Uganda, the introduction of performance-related contracts for head teachers in 2007, was shot down by the teacher unions. Parents need to be made to realise how they, and their children’s futures, are being cheated by the system.
Our blogger network reveals critical and personal views about the societal effects of TTIP and free trade. Anticipating and tracking long-term trends to understand the future of development and poverty. PrepMe founder Avichal Garg made a strong statement in his blog post last year that resonated with the ed-tech community. In K-12 and university classrooms alike, there are forward-thinking instructors who would do anything to improve the education their students receive. In addition to shrinking budgets and limited resources, publicly-funded institutions have incredibly rigid budgets and complex processes for allocating those budgets. This seems so hopeless that many startups have decided to completely ignore the existing system and start from scratch.

There is another way for ed-tech companies to succeed, though, which I’ll call the “Trojan Horse” strategy, or “Disrupting from Within”. More recently, we’ve seen student’s own devices viewed as a potential learning tool rather than a distraction in class. I think with the job market the way it is looking at education as an expense instead of an investment isn’t a good strategy.
I was overwhelmed by this news, thinking “Is there an education minister somewhere within the four walls of Sierra Leone? The poor are left marginalized with substandard government schools – The Eastern Cape in South Africa comes to mind. To make this work, the education system needs to be insulated from politics and this is one of the major problems of education in Africa. Singapore has also done well with teacher training because it has been linked with pay-for-performance for teachers.
Even fewer have the financial expertise to know what fiddled figures look like, or the courage to challenge the head teacher’s excuses for why there are no textbooks.
In 1999, the net primary enrolment ratio in Sub-Saharan Africa was 56% according to UNESCO. In some places, particularly in rural areas, schools receive such sporadic and minimal funding from the local and district authorities that parents have clubbed together and reinstated registration fees – as a way of simply providing some resources for their children’s classrooms and money to pay teachers. Such teacher absenteeism, low levels of teacher effort and the leakage of resources coalesce to leave a system where children leave school (often earlier than they should), without the skills they need to work as adults. In the long term, it destroys parents’ expectations of what school can offer their children. The leaks in the system must be plugged, and government must be made to deliver the money it promises schools on time so that teachers get paid. VCs and entrepreneurs salivate at the prospects for disruption as they look at the archaic products and old-school business models in an industry that has barely changed in the last 50 years. He states that the average middle-class American thinks of education as an expense and not an investment because lack of a quality education has no immediate negative impact on a person’s life. In fact, the average teacher spends about $400 per year out-of-pocket on teaching supplies, for which they are never reimbursed (keep in mind, the average salary for a teacher is $45,000).
While this may be tempting (and is certainly easier than trying to find a business model that works with or cuts through the bureaucratic red tape), there are far too many established players with significant vested interests in the existing system for education as we know it to realistically crumble even within this generation. Essentially, this means taking advantage of the existing education infrastructure and teaching pedagogy, while introducing a disruptive idea into the mix.
While they’re a non-profit, they’ve taken a very cunning approach to their growth strategy. Another company that could have positioned itself as an adversary to traditional learning institutions. At Top Hat Monocle, we’ve been building an interactive classroom response system that utilizes students’ own technology to make in-class instruction more effective. Without the latter (which if often resisted by teachers’ unions across Africa), it is difficult to get results and accountability from the former.

But maybe it’s time Africa’s parents stood up and challenged the endemic corruption across their children’s educational system.
Sometimes the most literate members of the community run these committees – perhaps former parents whose children are not at school anymore but who have remained good friends with the teachers. This corruption is as “equally insidious” as the multi-million-dollar front-page scandals, says the World Bank. They then decide to keep their children at home to work, rather than spend time in a classroom with no teacher. Why then haven’t we seen any breakout education successes at the same level of consumer media, enterprise software, or even personal fitness? Income (supplemented by loans) is often enough for a high school graduate to afford basic amenities like a house, food, and car in middle America. Shrinking budgets, growing class size and institutions focused on rankings and profit require instructors to discover new tools and pedagogies in spite of their environments rather than with the support of them. Consumerization of education falls down if it requires teachers to spend their own cash, or spend their limited time lobbying their administration for a grant. The reality is that these long sales cycles kill startups before they can get any traction. The end-game is still an eventual complete disruption, but you protect yourself from the binary outcome (i.e.
They could have simply said, “It’s pointless to go to school when you can learn everything you need to from the best teachers in the world for free.” Instead, they embraced the role of the teacher and classmates in self-paced learning and have “flipped the classrooms” of the most forward-thinking instructors. Instead, they’ve partnered with leading institutions to help them promote the quality of their teaching more broadly, adding a ton of value to their platform in the process. By leveraging the age-old student-pay distribution model that textbook publishers have used for years, we’ve been able to get to market, learn and iterate quickly without requiring universities to invest in any additional IT infrastructure.
In a rebuke to the self-interest of trade unions, the World Bank’s report suggests that ‘teacher power’ – the significant leverage wielded by former teachers and teachers unions in local and national politics – is damaging the chances of improving the quality of education and its governance. It’s not until layoffs are made, loans need to be paid off, a family member gets sick, or retirement comes around and the 401k is empty that the consequences are felt.
Private schools and institutions often have a bit more leeway, but you severely limit your market size if those are your primary customers. While it’s still early days, we’ve seen some very encouraging results and I’m excited about the potential this technology has to change the system from within.
Or, in the best case scenario, everything is fine, but the next generation bears the brunt of it by lacking the resources and support needed to land a job in an increasingly competitive labor market. National-level campaigns to get parents, civil society and local communities motivated and involved in the running of their schools could be politically explosive, but very powerful.

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