How innovation is turning education on its head in Africa  

This content was supplied to CNBC Africa by Standard Bank 

We live in exciting times where our daily lives are dominated by innovation. The education landscape is also gradually changing as new inventions and new ways of teaching become the norm. It’s worth noting that innovation does not only mean technology, but it encompasses any creative, new way of doing things. If it improves learning, processes and systems, or solves a real problem, then it is innovation.

We want to highlight some of the ways in which creativity has been applied to solve some of these plaguing educational issues, across the African continent. They include:

  • High and unaffordable fees.
  • Lack of access to learning material for pupils.

MATHS MEETS HIP-HOP

One of the biggest flaws in the education system is the assumption that all children learn in the same way. A single, age-old learning method of sitting behind a desk and absorbing facts and numbers is still used across the world. While this technique works for some learners, it does a disservice to others, who are left feeling academically inadequate.

A maths teacher in Cape Town is turning the traditional teaching method on its head.  He is using rap music to help learners remember their multiplication tables. Kurt Minnaar, a former hip-hop dancer and choreographer, has creatively come up with a system of turning maths concepts and numbers into hip-hop lyrics – a language that his grade 8 learners understand very well.

“There are four types of learning methodologies – kinaesthetic, visual, audible and the traditional reading and writing. Kinaesthetic learning is when pupils learn through movement; visual through sight; audible through what they hear and the traditional reading and writing method is when pupils are more independent and able to learn in the traditional sense,” the Cape Town teacher explains. “When you fuse creativity into lessons, you cater to more pupils, and more will understand because now you’re speaking their language. Whereas if I just ‘chalk and talk’ and stand there in front of a class, it predominantly only caters to one type of pupil, who are also in the minority.”

Minnaar used to struggle with maths in school. At the time, he thought he was incapable of grasping the complexities of the subject but later realised he needed a different way of learning. He says his students are incessantly in a cheerful mood as they come to class eager to break it down to his rhymes. The pupils’ marks have also improved, says Minnaar.

MOBILE SCHOOLS

In some parts of Africa, the tradition of nomadic pastoralism is still alive. People move from one location to another in search of grazing lands for their livestock. For children who grow up in such families, the on-the-go lifestyle proves to be a barrier to education as they struggle to attend school regularly.

Fortunately, for some nomadic school children in Kenya, access to education has become easier as they can now move around with their school! In 2010, the Kenyan government joined forces with UNICEF to launch mobile schools which brought education to learners whose families had to relocate frequently in order to survive. As part of the initiative, teachers now live and travel with the nomadic groups, setting up tents and temporary schools.

The mobile schools normally plan their calendar around rainfall patterns. Most of the learning takes place during the rainy seasons when children do not have a lot of household chores.

CROWDFUNDING FEES WITH FEENIX

 The #FeesMustFall protests in South Africa shone a glaring spotlight on the issue of the rising costs of education.  Many students are struggling to pay for their tertiary education. In an effort to help students, who cannot afford high university fees, crowdfunding initiatives have mushroomed. Feenix.org is an online platform which allows donors to donate money to students registered on the site.

1068 Live student profiles have been uploaded onto the platform which features their biographies and fees statements.  Once a profile has been verified it, and the fees needed, becomes visible to anyone who visits the site. With the minimum donation set at R100 (US $7.5) anyone is welcome to make a donation.  85 Students have been fully funded since this initiative started.

Up to date R4.3 million has been raised by 744 funders (of which consists both individual and business funding).  Donors are also required to upload their information and go through a verification process.

E-LEARNING IS GROWING

Technology is transforming education in Africa at an unprecedented rate. With the rapid growth of mobile learning, the e-learning market is set to be worth well over US $530 million by 2018. E-learning is not only helping students learn better, but it is also giving underprivileged learners inexpensive access to educational content.

In Kenya, adoption of e-learning is happening at an impressive rate.  Schools in low-income areas are using technology to boost their learning. In Nairobi’s Kawangware area, students are using eLimu, an app for primary school learners to learn and revise for their exams. The platform contains educational content in the form of locally produced and culturally relevant videos, animations, songs, music, games and quizzes to improve learning.

One of the other successful e-learning platforms in Kenya is Kytabu, a textbook subscription platform that provides low-cost digitalised books to millions of students. Kytabu allows users to rent textbooks, chapters, and pages on a low-cost Android app and pay with M-Pesa, the successful East African mobile money transfer service.

LEARNING THROUGH ROBOTICS

Ghanaian company, Metro Institute of Innovation and Technology (MIT), offers school children training in robotics and mobile app development.  Their aim is to promote science and entrepreneurship in this way. The company applies innovative ways to introduce technology to learners and help enhance their learning.

Offering lessons to children of all ages, MIT established the National Robotics Summer School.  Attending this school, learners can take their science skills to the next level by programming robots and designing games. “We’re trying to use robotics as a tool to inspire the study of science and maths, to relate classroom theories using robots so that if we’re talking about a scientific principle, they [the learners] shouldn’t just memorise the facts,” explains Ben Nortey, Founder and CEO of MIT.

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