The question of developing educational alternatives remains one of the most complex themes in the debate around the contributions of the private sector to capacity building in Africa. The educational sector, historically, has almost solely relied on public subsidies and funding and the emergence of technology-based solutions to deliver educational content has largely remained on the sidelines, despite raising some modest interest by governments - such as in the case of the One Child One Laptop initiative.
Over the past few years, while technology companies have been playing a major role in innovating existing, traditional industries, in the educational sector, a significant share of the funding, especially from private equity investors, has gone into (private) school networks such as Bridge International, African Leadership University, and Enko Education, while venture capital and philanthropic money have been targeting organisations focused on critical and digital skills training and employment generation, such as coding schools. Some of these include Moringa School, Andela, Gebeya, Le Wagon, as well as ad-hoc boot-camps run by local technology hubs.
Though increasing attention is being put on digital education and the role of e-learning, especially in the face of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures, private capital in this space remains limited. Learning Management System (LMS) companies, albeit to some extent boosted since the beginning of pandemic, still face structural challenges such as high data prices and lack of reliable power in several non-urban or periurban areas.
Despite the obstacles and nascent state of financing for learning platforms in Africa, there is a vibrant and emerging landscape of over 200 learning platforms on the continent. The solutions range from e-learning, professional skills development lessons, tutoring, online courses and school management software. Some of top deals across Africa’s startup ecosystems that happened over the past few years in the educational sector, include GetSmarter’s mammoth deal - selling for over $100 million - and the notable investments in Andela, a company which has recently been pivoting towards a more senior talent outsourcing model vs the entry-level training it initially put forward. Nigeria’s uLesson, Eneza Education, and Middle Eastern companies such as Noon Academy are some of the other top businesses that have managed to attract substantial capital in recent years, and impact donors such as the Mastercard Foundation have also been supporting early-stage initiatives with grants in the order of $20-100,000.
The very nature of digital platforms and online tools for learning and management means that most LMS and edtech solutions are accessible and relevant across borders. Numerous platforms also offer their services in several languages, especially those originating in Portuguese, French, or Arabic speaking countries, extending the reach of the solution to a global scale. Noon Academy, for instance, is active in 8 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and France-based Superprof is active in 29 countries across 6 continents. Many platforms such as gidimo (Nigeria) and eLearning Solutions (Kenya) offer standard e-learning courses on popular topics including IT topics (such as How to Develop an App) and business topics (such as Entrepreneurial Skills, Digital Marketing, Public Speaking, and Management). Some platforms such as etudesk (Côte d'Ivoire) also offer the opportunity for organizations to create and publish their own e-learning courses on a ready-made learning management system (LMS).
In sum, while the sector is ripe for disruption and ready for more sizeable capital, the dialogue between traditional funding and new models, especially those brought about by innovative startups, is key to define synergies and efficiency in the coming years.