How EdTech can help teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa

13 Aug 2018 |

New EdTech initiatives are springing up almost every day, but are those who best understand education on the ground – the teachers – buying into it? If EdTech is to address the persistent challenges around access to a quality education in Sub-Saharan Africa, it must work with teachers. Teachers play the most important role in educating a child, and they cannot be replaced by technology. Rather, technology should complement the teacher – and be developed with teachers’ expertise at heart.

We recently brought together 15 Global Teacher Prize Finalists from across Sub-Saharan Africa, to learn from their extensive classroom experience and academic research. They set out what is needed for EdTech to support teachers, so that their students achieve sustained positive outcomes.

It is not enough to provide technology alone; this may seem obvious, but it is often where interventions in the region start and stop. Ugandan maths and physics teacher Ronald Ddungu spoke of one such initiative in Uganda, where computers were rolled out to schools without proper training, and now the devices are gathering dust. Africa is a mobile-oriented continent, with a reported 44% of the population using a mobile in 2017. However, as South African school principal Phuti Ragophala noted in the discussions, many students don’t know how to use their, or their parents’, phones to access educational resources.

But this is just one symptom of a much bigger problem. International data show that the proportion of adequately trained teachers is falling fast across many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, fuelling a growing regional crisis in the quality of learning. Many teachers in the region simply do not have the skills they need to teach children to read and write, let alone those needed to use technology effectively in the classroom. Governments across Africa which are already struggling to equip teachers with adequate pedagogical skills are hard-pressed to train them to use constantly changing hardware and software.  

When teachers are fully bought-in to using something, powerful things happen.

A Pan-African study found that in six countries (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa), ICT is often seen as the subject of learning, rather than as a means of learning, in both national curricula and classroom practices.[1] A study in two leading schools in Ghana recommended that the Ghana Education Service roll-out in-service training on information literacy skills, and that school heads should ensure that library materials and reliable internet access is available for teachers to continue developing their information literacy skills.[2]

Perhaps one part of the answer lies in teachers themselves, both as adopters of effective technology and as facilitators of wider professional development among their colleagues and networks. Malawian teacher Andrews Nchessie fundraised and purchased 60 computers for his school and personally trained the teachers how to use them. However, after he was transferred elsewhere, the computers weren’t used. Nchessie argues that a lack of motivation among his colleagues contributed to this. After setting up schools and teaching in Dadaab refugee camp, Michael Kagwa is now working for beneficiaries to feel ownership of the programme, so that when the funding or donor-relationship ends, there is a strong enough belief in the programme for beneficiaries to run it themselves.

A study in Tanzania looked at what affected teachers’ acceptance and long-term use of multi-media enhanced content, which the government had implemented to update their subject knowledge.[3] It found that the expected level of effort, social influence, facilitating conditions, hedonic motivation and habit all had a statistically significant effect on teachers’ acceptance and use of the content.[4] In order for the educational technology to be used in the long-term by teachers, all of these aspects must be carefully considered when designing the training, technology itself and implementation support.

When teachers are fully bought-in to using something, powerful things happen. Colleen Henning, from South Africa, runs an online platform for over 500 teachers to share best practice. Wendy Horn, also in South Africa, is using LEGO Robotics, sponsored by Vumatel and Cool Ideas, and across-school collaboration, to increase critical thinking. Everyday technology, such as WhatsApp and video, is used by teachers in a myriad of ways to reinforce learning. For example, Abdikadir Ismail, who teaches in a low-resource school in rural Kenya, sends teachers to a school with a laboratory to film experiments, which they share with their students.

Teachers are crucial to whether technology helps or hinders in the classroom. It’s therefore imperative that EdTech initiatives work alongside them, to enhance the transformative impact that education can have on children’s lives.  

[1] Damian Kofi Mereku & Cosmas Worlanyo Kofi Mereku (2015) Congruence Between the Intended, Implemented, and Attained ICT Curricula in Sub-Saharan Africa, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 15:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1080/14926156.2014.992555

[2] Tachie-Donkor, G and Dadzie. P. S. (2017). Developing teachers’ information literacy capabilities in secondary schools in Ghana: a comparative study of two best schools in the central region, Library Philosophy and Practice

[3] Joel S. Mtebe, Betty Mbwilo, and Mussa M. Kissaka, 2016, Factors Influencing Teachers’ Use of Multimedia Enhanced Content in Secondary Schools in Tanzania, DOI:

[4] Joel S. Mtebe, Betty Mbwilo, and Mussa M. Kissaka, 2016, Factors Influencing Teachers’ Use of Multimedia Enhanced Content in Secondary Schools in Tanzania, DOI: