The advent of digital learning, which spells doom to the centuries-old traditional chalkboard method, is poised to address the education gaps and enhance education standards on the continent and equip learners and teachers with the necessary skills to participate in the digital economy.

Also called electronic learning (e-learning), it is taking root in Africa as the most relevant model of education provision regarding the current generation of youth that are techno-savvy, as well as a world that is increasingly revolving around technology.

South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, has taken a lead in e-learning while the rest of the continent is catching up.

Among companies leading the revolution is Extramarks, the Indian firm that has attained global success with new-age digital education solutions to schools and learners to make the teaching and learning process easy, effective and engaging in the classrooms and at home.

Its technologies transform the traditional classroom into futuristic technology-enabled learning environments.

Tablets, the adoption of which has been phenomenal in the country, are central to this offering as teachers and learners engage each other in real time. The technology also reduces the paper trail and enhances efficiency.

Over 7 500 schools across India, Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East have adopted the technology.

In South Africa, the company’s entry point to the continent, Extramarks’ offering is aligned to the official school curriculum and offers live chat functionality for additional assistance. The learners also benefit from other services such as daily study schedules, group study, progress tracking and mentor-guided learning.

In addition, through a partnership with mobile network services provider Telkom, customers with 24-month contracts receive free Extramarks content for children in Grades R to 12.

The online service provided by Extramarks, covers English, Life Science, Physical Science, Natural Science and Maths from Grade R to matric and is structured into multimedia-rich "learn", "practice" and "test" modules.

About 5 000 students in South Africa are using the Extramarks service.

“The reception in South Africa has been exciting,” said Atul Kulshrestha, the founder, chairman and managing director of Extramarks while visiting Johannesburg.

Kulshrestha has been in the country to assess the impact of Extramarks locally.

“Reception has been very good. People are eager to adopt technology. There is a lot of traction in this (schools) segment. There is great demand,” he said.

The company has lofty ambitions for the continent.

Tanay Kulshreshtha, head of Extramarks South Africa, disclosed that the company aims to roll its offering to 9 000 public and 600 private schools.

The reception in neighbouring Zimbabwe had been encouraging, as it had been in Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia, he said.

Extramarks is working in partnership with a major mobile network provider plying its services in these countries.

“This is our entry plan. We have big plans for the African continent,” said Kulshrestha.

And pilot projects were planned for Botswana and Mozambique.

Meanwhile, Samsung, the electronics maker with the biggest market share in the continent, is revolutionising education is making the most of the abundant sunshine in Africa.

It has rolled out its solar-powered internet schools, geared specifically towards increasing accessibility to education and connectivity.

Because the school is solar-powered, mobile and completely independent, it is seen as ideal for remote locations and limited access to electricity.

Each school consists of a 12 m-long shipping container, able to accommodate 21 learners at a time. There are notebooks and netbooks all optimised for use in a solar-powered environment, with an assurance of uninterrupted power supply.

The company is constantly growing its reach, and now has smart schools and solar-powered internet schools across Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia.

Such initiatives are hailed for enhancing access to education on the continent.

According to Caerus Capital’s report, Business of Education in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa has the best record of improvement of any region since the millennium development goals were established in 2000.

Total enrolment from primary school age to high school leaped from over 117 million to about 132 million.

“It’s been bandied about for a while now that digital solutions will go a long way in helping to alleviate Africa’s education challenges. Certainly, the rate at which digital penetration is taking place across Africa is promising,” said Sthembile Shabangu, Samsung Africa spokesperson.

German-based expert Jans Ischebeck said e-learning in an African context, is a means of reaching potential students, for example by their cellphone, in areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.

He said e-learning was independent of geography; it did not need the traditional infrastructure of schools, classrooms and libraries.

“This means that development steps can be leapfrogged and gaps in skills and training can be filled more quickly,” said Ischebeck.

He noted the education sector in sub-Saharan Africa was leading in adopting technology to complement instruction delivery, while Africa was home to some of the fastest-growing economies globally and its huge youthful population held the continent's promise to attain developmental goals and industrialisation efforts.

“To achieve this, education is a key pillar to attain individually and collectively the aspirations of the continent. It is, therefore, necessary to adopt other means of instruction delivery that will impart skills necessary in a fast-pacing world,” Ischebeck said. – CAJ News