EdTech in Africa: A Landscape

TL;DR

(Citing sources in blog post’s body)

  • Education in Africa has improved dramatically over the past few decades: today, primary school enrollment is free and guaranteed in much of the continent, having reached 80%.
  • Despite the progress in enrollment, education on the continent has yet to produce quality & equal outcomes: 30–50% of secondary school children are out of school, and only 7% (17M students) are enrolled in university.
  • Moreover, 87% of African CEOs reported being “extremely concerned” about the availability of key skills among their workforce.
  • Africa’s total economies are promising: over the next 10 years, the 54 countries will collectively grow at 8% CAGR, faster than most regions in the world.
  • While GDP per capita varies widely (as low as $300 and as high as $11,000), the largest countries (Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa) will grow at fast rates, and can serve as a regional launchpad for regional development.
  • Africa’s population will double to 2 billion over the next 30 years, and will add 15–20M people to its workforce every year for the next two decades.
  • Africa’s population will urbanize quickly (half of the population will live in cities by 2050), and will expand its currently small middle class, today at 30%
  • Africa still has some serious impediments to widespread technology adoption: internet coverage is low (at 27% in SSA), hardware and software costs are high (up to 30% of GDP per capita is spent on a smartphone).
  • African governments spend 5% of their GDPs on education, more than any other region in the world.
  • Due to failing public school systems, households contribute up to 46% of total education spend on their children. This has resulted in 20–45% of K-12 population enrolled in private schools.
  • Investments in EdTech can help solve issues of access, quality and affordability.
  • Spend on education in Africa is estimated today at $224B, set to grow to $740B by 2030, at a 14% CAGR. We estimate spend on EdTech to grow fast, from 1% today to 6–10% in 2030, reaching $57B.
  • EdTech in Africa today is very small, having attracted only 20M in venture capital in 2019–2021 to-date. (Note: GSV Ventures invested one of the largest rounds on the continent, $7M in Valenture Institute)
  • In Africa, some EdTech sectors are more promising than others. Below you can read about some of the trends we identified in the market.
  • African EdTech founders are innovative, resilient and resourceful: they are building interesting products and are even creating markets. Today they are not growing because of market constraints, lack of capital and lack of access to talent
  • There is a growing web of ecosystem builders that support these founders: investors, incubators, accelerators, corporations and foundations.

Why education matters

In low- and middle-income countries, a quality education is often the lottery ticket to a better life. In most African countries, a good education can lead to upward mobility, either through a formal job or through skills that allow for dignified self-employment. Education also empowers people to think for themselves, question the status quo and ultimately, have a voice.

Africa today has most of the ingredients to support a nascent EdTech market

First, economies that will grow fast

Africa’s economic potential is large: the continent’s total economy will continue to grow at a fast rate over the next 5 years. Africa’s total GDP will reach $3.8T in 2026, growing at ~8% CAGR from 2020. By comparison, global GDP is forecasted to grow at 4% post-COVID (Source: IMF). While Africa is a large and diverse continent with 54 countries, Africa’s largest 10 economies today account for 70% of total GDP, and 16 countries on the continent will grow at more than 8% CAGR 2021–2026.

Second, a young and fast-growing population

Africa’s population is large and young. Indeed, Africa’s population will double in the next 25 years, projected to reach 2.5 billion people in 2050. Moreover, it is the only region in the world where the working-age population is projected to continue expanding beyond 2035. By comparison, India’s population today is at 1.4 billions and will grow to 1.6 billions in 2050. The World Economic Forum estimates that the African workforce will grow by 15 to 20 million every year for the next two decades. Moreover, Africa’s population is extremely young, and will keep getting younger. Today, the average African is 19 years old, compared to 26 years old in India.

Infrastructure issues are the biggest obstacle to the proliferation of EdTech in Africa

In Africa, there is a long way to go to achieve universal mobile internet coverage, and improving internet infrastructure will be crucial to ensuring higher adoption of tech products. Mobile and internet connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa is still low, at 26% as of 2019, up from 13% in 2014 (Source: GSMA Intelligence).

Africans spend a lot on education today

Currently, African governments spend, on average, 5% of GDP on education, which is the second highest of any region (Brookings), and on average, 16% of their national budgets. Moreover, households in low- and middle-income countries spent 43% on total education spending in 2018–19 (World Bank). If we do the math, it turns out that Africans (governments and individuals) spend $224B on education today, and will continue to spend more as GDPs grow, the middle class expands and spending on supplemental education increases.

EdTech in Africa: The Opportunity

EdTech spending as a share of total education spending is still small, globally estimated at 4% today and expected to grow to 10% over the next 5–10 years (Source: HolonIQ). Extrapolating this share on our estimated EdTech spending in Africa, we arrive at $3B spend today on technology products in education, estimated to grow to $57B in 2030. This is a big number, reflecting an emerging market that will inevitably grow in the next 10 years, but will still be only a small fraction of global EdTech spend (~10%).

  • Accelerated Learning: advanced technology (RoboEd, AI, ML) will be crucial for EdTech on the African continent. Indeed, due to the large disparities in learning resources and outcomes, learners increasingly need to be offered personalization.
  • Knowledge as a Currency: in a continent where only 17M people have access to higher education, proving your skills is more important to employers than university degrees. It is people who are able to prove that they can code, sell and solve problems who will thrive in Africa’s future job markets.
  • Lifelong Learning: As new technologies emerge, new industries are born (and others die). In much of the world, as in Africa, new skills will repeatedly be required to grow individually, economically and socially. As such, Africans will be required to keep expanding their knowledge through lifelong learning, either within the workplace or through personal initiative.
  • Modern Fluency: In a continent where more than 2000 languages are spoken, fluency in common languages (Swahili, Arabic, English, French) will be required across borders. Moreover, learning to code and computational thinking will also be crucial to the jobs of tomorrow.
  • Return on Education: In an environment with low purchasing power, there is fierce competition between EdTech products to prove their educational and economic impacts. As such, thriving products will be those that will tangibly demonstrate their return on education.
  • Weapons of mass instruction: With the population doubling to reach 2 billion people by 2050, EdTech tools need to be designed to scale rapidly (at low cost). Improving infrastructure will be crucial to achieving scale on the African continent.

The EdTech opportunity exists in select segments

The themes above are cross-cutting of the below EdTech sub-segments:

EdTech founders in Africa are innovative, resilient and resourceful

The heroes of this story are the African EdTech entrepreneurs who relentlessly pursue opportunities in the space. Indeed, doing EdTech in Africa today is still very hard, because of infrastructure issues, low spending power, lack of abundant venture capital, lack of widespread access to talent (chicken or egg problem?) and other structural issues (corruption, gatekeeping by governments, etc). To overcome these obstacles, African founders are extra creative. Borrowing some of the ideas presented in Alexandre Lazarow’s book “Out-innovate”, my research indicated that African EdTech entrepreneurs:

  • Create rather than disrupt: Where there are no established industries to disrupt, entrepreneurs create new sectors that are taken for granted elsewhere. For example, Dext Technology ships portable science kits to schools where no physical labs exist. Another company, Arifu, teaches digital and financial literacy skills to encourage the adoption of financial products, thus creating an EdTech for FinTech market.
  • Cater to the most disadvantaged: Serving the bottom of the pyramid is not a choice for Africa’s EdTech entrepreneurs, but a requirement to do business. Valenture Institute, a GSV Ventures portfolio company, just launched a quality, low-cost, fully online private school in collaboration with Africa’s top research university: the UCT Online High School (Imagine partnering with Harvard for an online high school and charging community college prices!). The traction to-date suggests that the model was able to reach out to a wide and diverse audience: 90% of applicants are non-white, 67% are female and 70% come from South African public schools.
  • Foster the full stack, not just software: Where infrastructure is lacking, African entrepreneurs build the infrastructure themselves in order to sell their products. In South Africa, Syafunda sells and ships “wifi boxes” with their e-learning platforms to schools where internet is not available. In Tunisia (and quickly expanding to 8 countries), GoMyCode provides access to collaborative community spaces in addition to online learning content to train the next generation of tech workers.
  • Scale by charging a low price for their quality product: to achieve scale in environments where purchasing power is low, African EdTech entrepreneurs have to charge low prices. In North Africa, Colnn and Koolskools offer a full school management system (including learning, admin and payments), charging prices as low as $2.5/student/year.
  • Adapt to hardware and software challenges: Even when they can create sleek iOS apps and incorporate AI in their products, African entrepreneurs have to adapt to their environment. Instead, they create SMS-based products to engage with learners who do not have a smartphone. This is what e-learning companies Eneza and M-Shule do in Kenya. Others create WhatsApp chatbots to limit the amount of data consumed: Botter uses Facebook / Instagram Messenger to teach languages, and Foondamate uses WhatsApp to search and send learning resources to learners.
  • Establish global partnerships with established institutions: To quickly gain the brand name required to scale, African EdTech entrepreneurs collaborate with global brand names to offer their services. This is the case of Kepler, a Rwanda-based online university that offers learners accreditation from Southern New Hampshire University.

Below is a market map of the EdTech companies on the African continent

Venture Capital interest in African Edtech is still very small

VC deal value in Africa reached a record high $2B in 2019 (Source: Partech Africa), mostly in fintech (31%), cleantech (22$) and health (9%). Of these investors, 42% of investors are North America-based, 23% are Europe- based and 20% are Africa-based. Moreover, five countries accounted for 67% of deal value in 2020 (Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, Ghana). African tech has minted five unicorns, four of which are in fintech (Flutterwave, OPay, Chipper, Fawry) and one in e-commerce (Jumia). Notable investors include Tiger Global, Softbank, Sequoia Capital China, Bezos Expeditions, etc.

A nascent ecosystem that is growing fast

The other heroes of this story are the investors, incubators, accelerators and foundations that are supporting the ecosystem. Below is a map representing the ecosystem players, and in this link you can find helpful resources on who does what in the space (most helpful to founders).

The way forward

Whether the African EdTech space will grow is inevitable: Governments and individuals today spend massively on education. A portion of this spend will inevitably go to EdTech. However, how fast the market will grow depends primarily on solving issues of infrastructure: mobile internet will need to be more widely available, and data costs a lot lower. Moreover, as economies grow, it is crucial for the growth to be evenly distributed, so that individuals’ willingness to pay on tech products also grows proportionately. Lastly, private capital needs to flow to the sector at a bigger volume and faster rate: African and global venture capital firms need to make early bets on African entrepreneurs addressing issues of education.

Acknowledgements

This blog post is the summary of a summer project at GSV Ventures, a global EdTech VC fund. Special thanks to fellow Associate Sophie Hoffman for her support and assistance in covering the continent. (If you are a founder based in Africa, Southeast Asia or Europe, feel free to reach out to Sophie).

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kenza Bouhaj

Kenza Bouhaj

782 Followers

Curious. Passionate about storytelling through data. Interested in Work, Skills and EdTech. Twitter: @KenzaBouhaj