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Surveying ICT use in education in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture
I have a better sense of where things stand today, but the more important question is: Where are things headed?
I have a better sense of where things are today,
but the more important question is:
Where are things headed?
I began my career exploring the uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education in Ghana, Uganda and a number of other places in Africa in the late 1990s, and have continued to stay engaged with lots of passionate and innovative groups and people working with ICTs in various ways to help meet a variety of challenges related to education across the continent. Because of this history, and continued connections to lots of folks doing related cool stuff, I am from time to time asked:
"So, what's happening with technology use in education in Africa these days?"

Periodically one comes across press reports asking general questions of this sort, such as this one from Germany's Deutsche Welle news service: Can tech help solve some of Africa's education problems? Of course, 'Africa' is a rather large place. Related generalizations (while catnip for headline writers, especially those outside the continent) obviously can obscure as much as they illuminate, perpetuating certain stereotypes of Africa as a single, monolithic place with certain common characteristics.(Binyavanga Wainaina's satirical How To Write About Africa remains sadly spot on in too many instances.)

That said, while the impulse from some corners to refer to 'Africa' may be both unfortunate but nevertheless predictable, being asked this sort of question at least provides an opportunity to unpack this question in ways that are (hopefully) useful and interesting. The EduTech blog was conceived in part, and in a decidedly modest way, to help direct the gaze of some folks to some of the interesting questions and challenges being addressed in different ways in different communities in Africa related to ICT use in education by groups who are, along the way, coming up with some interesting answers and solutions.


The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the arm of the United Nations charged with collecting global data related to education (and some other sectors as well), recently came out with a report that provides some useful data that collectively can help outline the general shape of some of what is happening across the African continent when it comes to the availability and use of educational technologies. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Basic e-Readiness in Schools is certainly not the first such report that has taken a continent-wide perspective, but it is notable in a number of regards -- not only because it is the most recent such effort, but also because it is intended as a precursor to more regular data, systematic data collection efforts going forward.
Written by Peter Wallet (with the assistance of Beatriz Valdes Melgar), the report presents data and related analysis from a survey co-sponsored by UIS, the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS) and the Brazilian Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society ( -- the group responsible for the annual Survey of ICT and Education in Brazil). The report notes that, unfortunately, "data on ICT in education in the region are sparse. Collecting more and better quality statistics will be a priority in the post-2015 development agenda given the growing role of ICT in education. In response, the UIS is working with countries to establish appropriate mechanisms to process and report data, and to better measure the impact of technology on the quality of education." With that caveat and announcement out of the way, the report then utilizes the UIS Guide to Measuring Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education as a framework with which to examine what could be discovered about the existence of related national policies, data about learner-computer ratios, school electrification and connectivity, and ICT-related instruction and curricula in ways consistent with other regional reports that the UIS has published on Asia, Latin America and a number of Arab countries. (Here's a list of international surveys of this sort from UIS and others for anyone who might be interested, as well as some general information about efforts of this sort.)
Some selected highlights:

Lessons from the Mbongui

Gessye Ginelle Safou-Mat's picture

Lessons from the Mbongui
I was about 13 years old when my family organized a trip to the village of Mpangou, in the Republic of the Congo. Travelling to the village was an event for us kids of the city – a new world. I remember packing our generators, cd players and speakers to bring a bit of our urban lives with us, and my mother telling us to buy candies and biscuits as gifts for the people. The road was full of potholes, and the men often had to push our cars forward through the mud, but at last, we got there.

Making urbanization work for Africa

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
With close to half a billion people living in cities in 2015 and 1 billion expected in 2040, Africa will have doubled its urban population in the next 25 years. At this early stage in its urbanization process, Africa has the chance to avoid the mistakes of so many other regions and get it right. See in this video some solid data on the particular characteristics of urbanization in Africa --where manufacturing is declining in rapidly growing cities, and population is sprawling-- and a proposed approach to urban jobs, housing and transport that will make cities work not just in terms of infrastructure, but most importantly to improve the lives of their residents.

Insights from Brazil for skills development in rapidly transforming African countries

Claudia Costin's picture
Young Brazilians learning hairdresser skills under a vocational program run by Sistema S
Young Brazilians learning hairdresser skills under a vocational program run by Sistema S.
Photo credit: Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

While Brazil faces a difficult fiscal and economic situation right now, I would like to view national progress on employment and incomes from a long-term perspective, which is valuable when addressing Education and Human Development issues in a broader sense.

New efforts aim to mine opportunities, tackle bias and abuses in DR Congo

Caren Grown's picture
“Before the war, the fields produced and the men were still working,” one woman, a mineral transporter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told researchers studying the impact of mining there after two decades of conflict. “Now we make money by growing in the fields of others and carrying things from the mines. What has changed life now is that the fields no longer produce and our husbands are no longer working,” she said, adding, “After the war, it’s resourcefulness” that keeps people going.

Now on Flipboard: Latest on health, nutrition and population

Julia Ross's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | العربية


Nigeria has reason to celebrate. The country recently marked one year with no polio cases, bringing the world one step closer to eradicating a terrible disease that now circulates in only two remaining countries. To commemorate the global health milestone, Nigeria’s President Buhari gave his own three-month-old granddaughter a few drops of oral polio vaccine – a moment captured by a photographer and sent round the world via social media. It also sent a clear public health message: vaccination works.

Bridging the energy divide

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Haiti. Dominic Chavez / World Bank

Energy is fundamental to economic growth and environmental sustainability. Sustainable Development Goal 7 -- "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all" -- recognizes that energy underpins progress in all areas of development. But 1.1 billion people still live without electricity, and another 2.9 billion live without modern fuels for cooking and heating.

Recognizing this gap is one thing. But having the working partnerships, monitoring tools and financing to move forward is another matter. The great news about the Energy SDG is that these pieces are finally falling into place.

A major factor in this momentum is Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative set up after Rio+20, the UN's 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. The SE4All initiative has high-level leadership and strong political support. Co-led and chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, it has quickly brought together the public sector, private sector and civil society around three ambitious goals: ensuring universal access to modern-energy services; doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global-energy mix.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Being the 'honest broker' for Ghana’s one-of-a-kind energy deal

Pankaj Gupta's picture
Podcast: Investment in Ghana
It’s not every day that oil and gas companies commit to an $8 billion project, even as commodity prices show no signs of stabilizing. Such a deal is even tougher to orchestrate in Ghana, where the macroeconomic situation has deteriorated in the past two years, resulting in the country’s restructuring program with the International Monetary Fund.
But such an operation did happen.
On July 30, the World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors approved the largest guarantee support—$700 million in total—in the 20-year history of the Bank’s IDA/IBRD guarantee program. The combination is unique—it draws together the part of the Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries with the arm that offers long-term loans to middle-income developing countries.
But its result is even more critical, and possibly a best practice for other countries to follow in the future.

The impact of low oil prices in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gerard Kambou's picture
Growth picked up in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, after moderating in 2013, but remained weaker than during the pre-crisis years. It softened around the turn of the year owing to headwinds from the plunge in the price of oil. Sub-Saharan Africa’s oil exporters, which account for nearly half of the region’s aggregate output, have been hit hard by the sharp decline in the price of oil. From June 2014 to January 2015, oil prices fell by nearly 50 percent, and have remained low despite the recent uptick.