KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest rates of math and reading proficiency among primary school students in the world, which has bred high unemployment rates for adults.
  • To combat poor education rates, a number of edtech startups, such as Siyavula and GetSmarter, have moved into the region to bridge the skills gap among African youth.

Sub-Saharan Africa has by far the lowest rates of primary school students who achieve minimum proficiency in math and reading, less than 7% and 14% respectively.

This compares with 30% – 40% achievement rates in the lower middle income countries.

Across Africa, 30 million children of primary school age are not even in school, and many children who are in school suffer from widespread teacher absenteeism.

Overall, the standard of learning outcomes is very poor. This has huge implications for adult skills attainment and contributes to Africa’s estimated average 50% youth unemployment, a problem which will worsen as knowledge and skills become ever more important to employability.

Parents are usually willing to pay a significant portion of income towards their children’s education, and private schools are growing in popularity.

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In Nairobi, Bridge International School delivers education via iPads to bring fees under $100 per year. Even though that is a large proportion of average local income, the school is still oversubscribed.

Innovative companies are also plugging gaps in assessment and adult skills.

South Africa-based Siyavula provides online high school math and science practice courses and personalized digital exam preparation based on students’ performance. It has distributed 10 million digital textbooks and is expanding into Nigeria with the help of $1.5 million of funding from Google.

Founded in Cape Town in 2008, GetSmarter partners with universities globally to build short courses lasting 10 to 12 weeks to enhance adult employability.

GetSmarter has served 50,000 students in 70 countries with student completion rates nearing 90%. Students pay on average $2,300 in installments with revenues shared with the university, so GetSmarter is a premium product. It was acquired for $103 million by U.S. edtech giant 2U in 2017 and reported revenues of $17 million.

There’s growing international interest in African edtech. Mark Zuckerberg invested $25 million in Andela, which is dedicated to hiring and nurturing African software developers. In addition, Google has announced a $20 million fund for African nonprofits in education, and South African Naspers Ventures announced in 2016 that education technology would be its key focus.

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