The education sector is one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of obvious reasons. The first is that much of the system of learning across the globe involves physical gatherings, a recipe for the quick spread of infectious diseases.
The second is that the bulk of the population of consumers is made up of the growing population, mostly dependent and fragile.
For some educators, the current coronavirus pandemic presented an opportunity to help their students grapple with technology as they leveraged many Edtech platforms to remedy the situation.
The big question on my mind is what happens to the majority of the young African population who have to lose valuable learning time due to the closure of schools? I spoke with Eyitayo Ogunmola of Utiva and he made some salient points in response to this question.
Here are some excerpts:
Let us start from here. Why did you start Utiva and why Edtech?
After my days at the university, I struggled for almost two years to get a job because I was not at that time employable. I had studied a course at the university called Medical Physiology. At that time, employers pretty much were not hiring for that.
Almost all my friends that studied computer science engineering has transitioned faster than I had about that time. I was lucky I met a mentor that helped me to rechannel my career path and my energy to a new space.
So a bunch of different things that I experienced at the level when I was trying to rechannel my career path was the inspiration behind Utiva.
The first was that learning premium technology skills is not or wasn’t cheap. It was very expensive. Accessing training was quiet, very expensive, and secondly is at that time, you know, there were just too many physical classes.
I was talking about 2012. And the cost of data was quite very high. So you can’t even want to stream videos and all of that.
In fact, a research report indicates that it will cost a typical African four times more if he wants to learn online compared to his counterpart from other climes. And I was just thinking to myself, how do we scale education if you are only dependent on physical presence offering?
You have to be able to meet in between, offer physical training and also do some virtual training so that people that do not have opportunities to come to physical locations can also learn.
So I wanted to solve two major problems: the first was how do we give people access by lowering the barrier to entry? You know, it doesn’t have to be a premium pay but it will be a premium skill training.
Number two is accelerating the access You don’t have to spend four years learning programming then wake up to the reality that there are actually no jobs for you as promised. That is way way too long for a young person to come to a painful realisation.
We want to make it easy for young Africans to invest in the right skills often because unfortunately, the lifespan of a tech skill is about two years.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Education in Africa: Opportunities and challenges
I wouldn’t talk at all about primary education and secondary education, because I think that there are major players in that space and are doing well enough. But there’s a major gap with tertiary learning, which is the area where I am focused on right now.
So I will speak about the silver lining, the benefit in the long run as it were. If you think about it, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Andela started Fora some 7 years ago with the same mission of, hey, let us help you put your content online. But the universities, then, did not receive it.
Now they have realised the value of online learning.
I came up with Utiva with the same agenda that we can become co-creator with lecturers so we can create offline programmes so students can learn from where using technology.
The silver lining is the fact that the government can now understand it when you talk to them about the realities of remote learning. They can now understand that if we had invested in technology 5 years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Where we are versus where we need to be…
Businesses will not stop. The world will not shut down for anybody. The world is still moving on. And, we have some catching up to do.
I am in the US and I can tell you for free that technology companies globally are still raising money.
But, Africa as a continent is not preparing its younger generations for the opportunities that are yet. That means that we will not be competitive globally in the coming years.
The ripple effect of that is that companies will suffer because they won’t have access to the best talent. And that will have its effect on the economy. Everyone is going to pay!
If you want to think about this from the numbers perspective. By 2030, Africa would have almost 600 million young people that are ready for the job market. 37% of this number will be under 35. That is bigger than China.
However, the opportunity that China seized Africa may not be able to seize it because we are not maximizing these opportunities to aggressively train our people.
Are we ever going back to normal?
Certainly, we are not going back to the norm. Traditional companies are already re-inventing the way they work.
The interesting thing is the universities will never return to normal themselves, in terms of how content is created and distributed, the way pedagogies are structured and all that.
What we should do post-COVID-19: Eyitayo’s 5 steps to the future
The first is that the government needs to understand that there is a need to scale premium technology skills training.
Not just for people that are in the cities, but also for people in the rural and disconnected communities. You know, for the young guy who is in 200 level that lives in Okitipupa. For that younger woman that lives in Borno as well.
Secondly, the Government needs to start to work aggressively on their own end to lower the barrier to entry. Now, two major barriers: Number one is. Internet, the cost of the Internet. Number two is the cost of electricity.
There are many initiatives that even we at Utiva have recommend. For instance, have a conversation with the private sector players around how to provide free data for young people for learning ONLY.
Say you give 10 Gig per month and say it is only usable if you log on this education platform. The network providers already have such offers for Instagram and WhatsApp.
Number three, major players like Utiva need to change and reinvent the dynamics of how we offer value. One, people no longer have a lot of cash to pay for premium skills. So we need to lower the barrier to entry for them by providing steady loans.
You can pay for maybe the next 10 months.
Number four, organisations can train employees even at the point of downsizing. At this period when some companies are downsizing, they can give the people that you are sending off opportunities to learn by sending them to premium skills trainers off with a voucher or something.
Then lastly, a recommendation to educators themselves that they must also reinvent what they are training. We are in a very dicey time that you need to start to train people on skills that are not all specialised.
So you think of skills like communication because while everyone is working from home now, they need to be able to communicate better. We can teach our staff to ask the right questions.
Otherwise, you would just have an economy of young people that are ready but they will shut down after one year or two years of working from home. Already, People are beginning to feel lonely and exhausted.
They are not only working from home. They are servicing their kids and other obligations at the same time.
The private sector has a role to play
Education is costly. The upfront is a lot. So Africa needs a lot of investment to scale that. For example, Amazon needs to jump in Africa and give more educators free AWS capacity.
Zoom, for instance, can give educators free access. I am having a conversation with the head of marketing and the chief marketing officer of Zoom on this. Microsoft needs to give us free teams accounts.
These are the things that leaders in the industry have to be championing at this moment. We also need to be negotiating at a very high level with the players and the owners of the infrastructure that we are using.
Seems the focus is on technology… How about the arts and humanity students?
At a time such as now, regardless of whatever you do, you need to have some knowledge of technology. Otherwise, your ability to deliver will be limited.
Second, your ability to capture value back to yourself and your ability to scale, whatever you’re doing will be limited.
So, for example, journalism is not technology. Well, right now you are using a tech platform to have a conversation. It will be nice if you can also use the same technology platform to write everything I’m saying without you listening again and writing them yourself.
Look at the lady who runs an event company that now needs to still offer event management to people while the dynamics of the event has changed. Events are no longer physical and virtual for now.
For me, there’s a lot that educators can even teach in the arts, in the biological sciences, in the social sciences and other fields by leveraging technology.
Just a bit about Eyitayo Ogunmola
Eyitayo Ogunmola is an ed-tech entrepreneur. He is the founder of Utiva, a platform that helps accelerate premium digital skill training and provides exclusive access to digital skills for immediate hire or product development in Nigeria.
He started his career in international development, working on USAID funded programs across six countries. He is a Chevening Scholar, an Halcyon fellow, an Atlas Corps Fellow, and a Global Good Fund fellow.
Eyitayo studied Business Strategy and is an AI Product Manager.
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