How the Internet can Impact Education in sub-Saharan Africa

English: Internet Penetration (% Population). ...

Internet Penetration (% Population). Red indicates no statistics available. (As of Jan 2012) Photo credit: Wikipedia

Dalberg, the global strategic advisory firm focused on raising living standards in developing countries and addressing global challenges, has released the report Impact of the Internet in Africa.

The comprehensive, beautifully designed report and accompanying website highlights the Internet’s role in socioeconomic development in sub-Saharan Africa in the agriculture, health, education, government, finance, small business, and energy sectors.

Given my work in education technology, I found the education section of particular interest, as many of the issues affecting Internet use in education in sub-Saharan Africa are also relevant in India and other developing countries. In addition, access to quality education is a major problem in this region, with UNICEF reporting that more than 100 million school-age children in developing countries do not have access to education, with nearly half of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. The Internet has a huge role to play in bridging the education gap.

Through field research (including a survey of 191 education organizations across Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal) and secondary research, Dalberg found that while the Internet has high-potential for positive benefits in the classroom, its potential will only be reached with a sustained investment in broadband infrastructure. In the meantime, learning objectives can be achieved outside of the classroom with cheaper, high-quality, but low bandwidth Internet options, which will bring users online faster. The 100 million social networking accounts (including mobile-enabled networks like Mxit, Saya, 2Go, and Eskimi) introduce first time users to the Internet and will encourage more marketing, information sharing, and citizen engagement, and more sophisticated Internet use over time.

The report explores several success stories in Internet-enabled education. One success in Africa’s education sector is non-profit WorldReader’s partnership with Binu, which solves a problem of lack of access to books by delivering e-books via mobile phones. Binu’s application platform for feature and smartphones has allowed WorldReader to reach 200,000 new book readers, and their growth numbers are impressive.

While Internet solutions in education and information sharing have delivered some positive impact in Africa, to reach it’s full potential and allow for universal access to education, Dalberg argues that there needs to be a holistic approach to Internet that includes bandwidth, hardware, content, and training. Dalberg found that there are two key pillars that create the foundation for a strong Internet economy: “core infrastructure” and “conditions for usage.” They explain:

“Core infrastructure includes aspects of the enabling environment – both physical infrastructure and characteristics of the business environment, such as mobile and Internet coverage, electricity, availability of skills, education levels, and perceptions of corruption. Conditions for usage include those that influence access, awareness, availability and attractiveness. They include a range of drivers, from the cost of devices and price of packages to factors affecting citizen awareness, such as education levels, usage and relevance of services.”

Of note, this isn’t Dalberg’s first interesting report on the Internet in the developing world. Several months ago they released a report with Intel, Women and the Web, which explores women access to Internet in developing countries. Dalberg’s study looked closely at Indian women, whom are less likely to have Internet access, at 8%, than the women in any of their other focus countries. In our own research into education technology in India, as we share in our report and in our blog post about Dalberg’s study, we found boys much more likely than girls to have used the Internet. Only 14% of 9th grade girls in Hyderabad’s low-cost schools have access to the Internet, 40% less than the number of their 9th grade male counterparts. Dalberg found that a major barrier to Internet access for women, and especially young girls, is that they believe the Internet is inappropriate for them, a sentiment also echoed among stakeholders we interviewed at the low-cost schools.

Dalberg’s findings about conditions for success for Internet use in Africa, combined with their previous research on women and the Internet, provides policymakers and the global, multi-sector development community with strong data-points and insights to take action to help the Internet play a more impactful role in education and socioeconomic development.

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