Educational technologies have the potential to expand the educational horizons of millions and the benefits of improving and having an efficient education system are clear.
According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report one third of young people in sub-Saharan Africa fail to complete primary school and lack skills for work. Many students who do complete school leave illiterate. This is contrary to the common assumption that it takes four or five years of schooling for children to use reading, writing and calculation with ease. It is accepted that class sizes and teacher-student interactions have a direct effect on the quality of education that a student receives. Sub-Saharan African countries have an average pupil/ teacher ratio of 42:1 and it is expected that by 2030 there will be three and a half times as many young people in sub-Saharan Africa as there were in 1980. To achieve the goal of universal primary education it is anticipated that more than 2 million teachers will need to be trained and recruited. These statistics show that sub-Saharan African education systems are in need of improvement and that there is an obvious capacity gap. Education technologies can alleviate teacher demands as they have the potential to reach out to a wide audience, away from the traditional classroom environment. For example, by using video streaming or screen-sharing technologies, content can be tailored remotely and delivery can be centralised.
This article seeks to demonstrate how Education Technology can help to plug the gap in relation to these educational deficiencies in Sub-Saharan African countries and highlights the opportunities and challenges that emerging educational technology companies wishing to penetrate the African market face.
What is Educational Technology?
Education technology (or ed-tech) encompasses advanced educational theory with hardware and software innovation. Modern examples of ed-tech make use of internet and mobile data connections and include video streaming services, screen-sharing programmes and other cloud and data content sharing platforms.
In the developed world, a variety of ed-tech is used to ensure education systems are efficient and to ensure educational content is delivered in an effective and cohesive manner. It may come as no surprise that modern ed-tech is not widely used in developing nations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Some ed-tech provide flexibility as to when and where particular sessions are viewed and offer learners the ability to pause, rewind and to review content at their own pace, something which a classroom environment cannot always offer. Virtual classroom environments provide those students who may require further guidance with a platform to raise their queries, without the need for faceto-face interaction.
Using similar concepts, ed-tech can assist with teacher training. By harmonising teacher training programmes, ed-tech can help in raising the standards of teaching to ensure that education is delivered at the appropriate level, in line with a coordinated curriculum.
Hardcopy resources, which are heavily relied on in education systems throughout the world, are often out of date. In sub-Saharan Africa hardcopy resources are expensive as they are often printed and imported from European countries, and are therefore in scarce supply. Ed-tech can reduce the need for reliance on hardcopy resources as they have the benefit of being able to provide up-to-date materials in a digital format
The internet and related technologies have reached developing countries at a much faster rate than previous technological innovations and much faster than was previously expected. Africa now has an internet penetration rate of 28.6% and sub-Saharan Africa has a mobile phone penetration rate of 73%.
In recognition of this, we have seen a number of edtech start-up companies that have sought to utilise this growing mobile and internet technology. For instance, Eneza Education offers courses and quizzes almost exclusively by text messages and the One University Network have developed Android and web-based apps where students can access learning material using relatively low-cost smart phones.
Such initiatives have been implemented in the current infrastructural environment and without the need for significant investment in equipment, hardware or infrastructure.
Protecting your technology
Some of the most popular ed-tech solutions come in the form of cloud applications, which can be adopted for a low cost and with minimum technical infrastructure. Where ed-tech vendors have spent time and money developing an app it is vital that they take steps to protect the intellectual property (IP) rights in the app. This will help prevent others from using these IP rights to create ‘copycat’ versions. It will also determine the scope of the licence to use the app which users are granted.
As a piece of software, an app will incorporate a number of different IP rights, including in its interface, layout and design. Copyright, for example, will arise automatically on the creation of the software for the app. Copyright will subsist in a number of different components of the app; the source code (the programming language used to write the app), the object code (the machine-readable language used by a computer to operate the software), as well as in the graphics, fonts, text and music. Copyright does not require its author to take any formal steps to benefit from the protection afforded by the law. Registration of a copyrighted work can be of assistance in order to bring a claim against an infringing third party. Infringing copyright is likely to be a breach of the law which entitles the app vendor to raise proceedings to recover damages. However, in some countries it may also give rise to criminal sanctions.
Trade marks, by contrast, are registered rights meaning that formal steps must be taken in order to benefit from the potential protection available under the law. Before adopting any trade marks (including slogans, logos or names) for your app, it is prudent to carry out searches to ensure that the relevant mark is free to use and you will not infringe any third party rights in adopting it. This helps avoid the risk of having to rebrand your app after it is released due to an infringement complaint.
Where the app is likely to be made available in a number of different countries, it is worthwhile for the vendor to adopt a brand protection strategy to secure trade mark protection in the key markets in which the app will or may in future be made available. This will assist the vendor to enforce his/ her trade mark rights against any infringers in those countries.
Displaying a registered trade mark sign, ®, where a trade mark has been registered may also deter potential copycat versions of an app. It should be noted, however, that displaying this symbol where the app trade mark is not registered may be a criminal offence in some countries. The vendor can however adopt the symbol ™ for any unregistered trade marks and the symbol © to demonstrate that he / she has copyright in the work.
In our upcoming newsletters we intend to explore further the legal issues concerning apps and other cloud based education technologies from the perspective of vendors and end users, including ownership of the technology developed and considerations around privacy.
Challenges faced by education technology companies
There are a number of challenges which ed-tech companies and entrepreneurs, seeking to penetrate the ed-tech sphere in emerging markets should be aware of.
Consideration should also be given as to whether the technology is affordable and whether the demographic profile of the potential market has the technological literacy. Further, prestigious universities, schools and other institutes have tried and tested educational methods and any new technology needs to ensure it has the credentials to ensure student confidence.
There are differing policies and practices in place across each of the countries in Africa which vary in line with the developing legislative environment. This means that implementation in each jurisdiction needs to be tailored to avoid active pushback from government authorities. Having said this, sub-Saharan governments allocate around 18.4% of their government expenditure on education, and any investment that improves the efficiency of educational systems, are likely to be gratefully received.