We have all heard the African proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and in the current climate, never has a truer word been spoken. Working for a leading technology company (HP), I strongly believe that private sector businesses like ours – together with government, educators, and civil society – have a crucial role to play in ensuring all learner can access good education, no matter their circumstances. As well as aligning with our goals of enabling better learning outcomes for 100 million people by 2025, it is something I am personally committed to driving.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused large-scale disruption to learning institutions around the world, amplifying educational inequalities, and putting low-income learners at an even greater disadvantage. In Africa, for example, the crisis left 250 million children in primary and secondary education out of school.
The adaptability of teachers has been commendable, as many countries shifted quickly, and impressively, to a model of online learning and remote study. The implications of this pivot have been devastating for those in poorer communities as many learners do not have access to a fast, reliable internet connection. Meanwhile, for others, the cost of devices is prohibitively high, and tech skills across the board remain severely lacking.
Fixing these inequalities – not just for school-age children is essential, if we are to ensure employment for future generations, adequately train people for the jobs of tomorrow — many of which will be IT-based — and support future leaders in building robust economies.
The shift towards hybrid and home learning means that technology and digital tools are now must-have, connecting teachers with their learners, and learners with classmates, and other learners across the world.
To ensure all groups have the resources they need, support is required in three critical areas:
- Devices and infrastructure
Thirty-one per cent of the global population does not have 3G coverage, while in sub-Saharan Africa, almost two-thirds do not have regular electricity. Broad internet coverage and reliable mobile networks are among the basic, pressing needs that must be met before curricula can be successfully digitised.
Digital content storage and learning management systems are essential components of online study, yet these also need to be affordable for low-income economies.
There continues to be a shortage of digital skills and information in the region. It is vital that educational institutions are supported in building the knowledge, capabilities, and governance procedures necessary to adopt a more digital-first approach.
What can technology companies bring
Through partnerships with other leading IT companies as well as via various Ministry of Education and NGO engagements, we are working hard to help address some of the urgent issues outlined above.
For example, the HP Innovation Garage, which launched in July last year, has enabled more than 33,000 learners and educators to join virtual workshops, and events, aimed at boosting their skills in vital areas like coding, VR and beyond. HP also offer an integrated solution called Classroom of the Future, which uses technology to create a more effective learning environment. Catering for learners, teachers, and IT leads, it features engaging digital content, and adaptive learning, real-time assessment tools and regular device diagnostics.
To address digital capabilities, we recently also launched the Innovation and Digital Education Academy (IDEA), which supports the strategic objectives of the regional Ministries of Education, and private school groups. The Academy seeks to promote the development of effective teacher-leaders, while embedding, and scaling impactful digital education skills, across participating schools. It has the ambitious target to badge 30,000 teachers over the next three years.
Now and for the future
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the education sector’s digital transition, bringing into focus some glaring shortcomings while highlighting clear opportunities to improve the learning experiences of learners, and teachers alike. What has not changed is that young people across the continent are full of entrepreneurial spirit, and eagerness to learn.
As an industry, we must therefore play our part in removing the technological, logistical and infrastructure barriers that often stand in their way. We must work together to help reach and engage them – wherever, whenever, and however, they learn. And we must provide them with the digital resources and skills they need to reach their potential.
Building a brighter future for education is a team game. And winning is the only option.
- Charl Snyman is the VP and Managing Director, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Turkey, Africa, HP Inc