Aug 30





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Digital Technologies and the Right to Education in Africa

Digital Technologies and the Right to Education in Africa

The role of education as a veritable tool for advancing the well-being of individuals and the society at large cannot be over-emphasised. This importance has been echoed by various international conventions and declarations like the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which most African countries agreed to and are signatories to. In addition to the above, most African nations have also promulgated laws reiterating the right to education as a socio-economic human right.


However, in spite of all the efforts towards recognising education as a fundamental human right, we have seen most African countries paying more lip service to the implementation or pursuit of the actualisation of the tenets of these conventions they are signatory to or even enforcing the laws that they established in their countries in regards to making quality education available and accessible to every citizen.


Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available, and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to strengthen respect for human rights and fundamentals. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”


In most African countries, the number of children who don’t have access to education are more than those who have. According to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2022, out of the 244 million out-of-school children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 in 2021, 98 million were from Africa. These have been attributed to various factors, namely: 

  • Poverty, 
  • Lack of educational opportunities, 
  • Lack of access to educational opportunities, even in some countries where the opportunities exist. 
  • Poor implementation of educational policies where they exist.
  • Corruption that leads to misuse of resources meant for educational purposes.


When it comes to educational opportunities available to children on the African continent, many other factors come into play, such as the challenges of outdated curriculum which are out of touch with the current realities of countries in Africa. Also witnessed are challenges of unqualified teachers, lack of learning and instructional materials, and incessant teachers’/lecturers’ strikes. 


All these come together to make the dream of basic education a mirage for most children on the continent, especially those from under-served areas whose parents could not afford alternate means of giving them basic education.


The COVID-19 pandemic also created another level of limitations towards acquiring basic education. The pandemic caused many African countries to implement lockdowns, which led to the closing of businesses and schools. According to the World Economic Forum, about 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school due to the pandemic and lockdowns.


Amid these problems facing the education system in Africa and the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, digital technologies are proving to be the silver lining in the cloud.


The use of digital technologies in Africa dates back to the 1960s when some countries started using radio to deliver classes to some of their unreached communities. With the advancement of technology, we have seen the emergence of more sophisticated digital technologies like computers, the internet, social media platforms, etc., being incorporated into the delivery of education to citizens. Despite the attendant challenges facing the use of digital technologies in education in Africa, one can boldly say they have significantly contributed towards closing the educational gap in Africa, thereby ensuring that people enjoy their right to basic and quality education. This has been done in the following ways:


Improved Livelihood for Under-Served Communities: Digital technologies have played the role of improving livelihoods for Africans in under-served areas, thereby moving most of them from poverty and giving them the resources that enable them to give their children the quality of education that would have been out of reach for them. An example of this is digital financial services like MPESA in East Africa, which gave rural farmers access to financial services that they wouldn’t have had before without the help of digital technologies, which has, in turn, improved their standards of living.


Access to Virtual Learning Opportunities: Before the advent of digital technologies, education and learning were confined to four-walled institutions, which made it impossible for many people to access basic education due to distance or other challenges. Digital technologies and their supported platforms are now helping many people in Africa today to overcome these barriers. 


Flexibility: One of the major challenges causing exclusion from education, especially for the under-served in Africa, was the rigidity of the system in delivering education to the people. Digital technology is helping bridge this gap by giving these excluded groups of people access to learning opportunities that suit their timing and convenience.


Availability of Data for Planning: Digital technologies have created an enabling environment for policymakers in the education sector in Africa to access information that leads to the development of better policies in ways that were not possible years ago.

Ubiquity of Teaching and Learning Resources: The world has become a global village with the help of digital technologies, and this is helping teachers and learners to have access to teaching and learning resources that they would not have had access to if it were not for the advancement brought by digital technologies. This has gone a long way in helping teachers and learners in Africa access these resources cheaply and through easy-to-access channels.


Increasing Parents’ Participation in Childrens’ Education: The importance of a parent’s participation in a child’s education cannot be over-emphasised, but the dynamics of the world we live in now have made that participation dwindle over time. The availability of digital technologies has positively impacted this aspect of the child’s education as parents now have the opportunity to be part of children’s education, not minding their busy schedules. 


These contributions notwithstanding, the integration of digital technologies has faced challenges in Africa, from resistance to adoption, lack of adequate supporting infrastructure to the high cost of supporting devices. 


One thing that resonates with everyone interested in the right to basic education in Africa, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant impacts, is the apparent need to embrace the use of digital technologies in education on the continent. 


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