In developing regions across the globe, school systems fail to provide their youth with an adequate education.
As part of 2014’s World Teacher Day (October 5th), the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) released preliminary estimates of teacher shortages across the globe. These estimates cast an ominous shadow on Africa, a continent plagued with the world’s highest teacher shortage and overall illiteracy rates. To comply with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030, 19.6 million primary and secondary school teachers will need to be employed within Africa. The educational strain is even more acute in Sub-Saharan Africa—a region that accounts for over 17 million of the teachers required. The cost of education and the scarcity of trained teachers in the region has led to a precipitous decline of schooled children, with over 10 million students dropping out of primary school every year. Even children who are given the opportunity to obtain an education are left with below-average reading and writing abilities, an unsurprising fact considering that Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world.
Although it is irrefutable that some progress has been made in Africa’s educational sector, the “commonplace” tried and tested methods (including UNESCO’s attempt to grant free primary education) are not enough for the massive issue at hand.
But perhaps the key to solving Africa’s educational crisis lies in unconventional strategies.
While sectors such as health care and education certainly trail behind those of developed Western countries, Africa’s communication sector—particularly mobile communication—is one the largest across the globe (2nd behind China). Africa’s 600 million mobile subscriptions allow for progressive improvements in connectivity and communication among its people. In countries such as Botswana and Angola (areas where there are even more mobile users than residents), the use of mobile devices and the connectivity they provide could possibly hold the answer for solving the educational dilemma. New efforts involving mobile technology are aimed at increasing literacy through the spread of e-books, facilitating mobile communication between schools, and enabling peer tutoring online.
Homegrown mobile social networks such as MXit not only allow its 60 million users to stay in touch by text messaging (at low prices) but also allows peers to discuss school work concerning subjects from mathematics to government. This service, although definitely not a panacea for Africa’s educational shortage, is one of the most qualified tutors that African children have access to. To prevent Africa’s literacy rates from further exacerbating, projects such as the Yoza Cellphone stories have been implemented. Users are able to read other people’s blog posts and interact with them through “liking” and commenting—an added benefit to mobile reading material over printed material.
However, it is idealistic to assume that this one-size fits-all approach will solve the problem over all of Africa. Unevenly distributed telephone infrastructure could lead to disparities between regions that have a relatively advanced mobile technology and those that do not. While the prospects for mobile-based educational resources are promising, a full-fledged solution for the continent’s education dilemma will have to address equalizing telephone infrastructure, determining which topics are to be taught in schools, and democratizing Africa’s education process so that more will have a say in how to properly educate the continent’s struggling youth.