The Case for Hybrid Learning in Africa [1]

February 18, 2021
May 12, 2023

Truly, the educational system in Africa has been ripe for reform for…long enough. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated an urgency for remote learning but few countries in Africa could readily adopt online learning. Before you proceed – no – this is not another random article on the internet about online learning. Neither will it give unrealistic expectations and solutions to the educational system.

However, what you will find, is how hybrid learning, a combination of online learning and traditional learning can be adopted by schools across the African continent. This… is the crux of it all. Tailoring solutions to Africa’s educational problems that the average Ebuka, Kofi and Thato can relate to. Now, let’s dive right into it.

Education in Africa: Where are we now?

One of the most common buzzwords lately when education is mentioned is online learning. We know that the world is going digital faster than ever, and digital options for learning are becoming more adopted across the globe.

Many are quick to suggest that schools in Africa should quickly follow the trend and go fully digital, but let’s face reality for a second. The current educational system in Africa can best be described as a work in progress as several issues currently face the sector.

For starters, it’s not that there hasn’t been any improvement in the education system. The increasing number of students enrolled in primary schools reveals otherwise. According to UNESCO, the average primary school enrollment rate in Africa is now at approximately 80%. This is still low in comparison with other regions across the world but it shows a level of improvement over the years attributed to the introduction of factors such as rising population, subsidized school fees, as shown below.

So, the number of children in schools has increased?  Great!

But the quality of education? Not so much.

According to the African Union (AU), the increase in school enrollments only mask the disparities and system dysfunctionalities still in Africa’s education system.

The first major challenge is that many schools are largely under-resourced and lacking in infrastructure to carry out traditional learning. UIS data showed that one third of primary schools in Africa have over 50 students per class with countries such as Tanzania and Malawi having over 70 students on average. More than half of these students have to share textbooks or do without textbooks during class because they cannot readily afford such learning materials. Furthermore, access to water, sanitation and electricity is limited in several of these schools.

A report by EdTech Hub showed that less than 40% of the youth population in Africa attend secondary school and less than 20% attend university, the major cause of this attributable to the high poverty rate. Furthermore, students in many remote areas are unable to attend school everyday due to the long distances they need to travel.

Outdated curricula are also a present threat due to the disconnect with current realities. As a result, a large number of schools are ill-equipped to prepare the children of today for jobs of the future or to set up thriving businesses. Clearly, there needs to be an improvement in the education system as it stands.

Traditional learning Vs Online learning

In more developed parts of the world, the debate on traditional learning vs online learning has been a front-burner topic as there are visible pros and cons for each method.

Traditional learning involves face-to-face knowledge-sharing interactions which occur in a classroom setting. It typically involves one teacher or instructor addressing a group of students. On the other hand, online learning, also referred to as e-learning, is the acquisition of knowledge that takes place through electronic technology, almost always over the internet. Online learning includes video-streamed classes, mobile applications, online courses, degrees, and documents.

Each of these methods come with their glories and shortcomings. For one, traditional learning offers students the opportunity to be in a physical setting and interact with fellow students. This helps them follow a regular schedule, remain disciplined and mentally alert. Meanwhile, online learning significantly limits interaction and often requires students to concentrate on a screen for too long periods of time which is not ideal, especially for younger learners.

Also, traditional classroom notes and textbooks help students stick to one path in preparation for tests and exams rather than online notes or sources that can be too general. With online learning, it is common for computer bots to grade quizzes automatically, but traditional grading methods that involve human teachers going through each script are indispensable for certain theoretical school subjects such as English Literature.

For students in Africa, tech and internet connectivity issues are the major disadvantages of learning online, hence traditional learning is easier to maintain across the continent. While online learning may eliminate some costs related to traditional learning such as the cost of transportation and student meals, going digital comes with significant costs as well. For many learners in Africa who already struggle to afford basic education, acquiring digital gadgets will definitely require funding, ideally both at the government and private sector level.

Still, traditional classes are usually very rigid, with a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. This is one major way online learning is preferable as it enables students to attend classes and access information from any location and at any time, making it a flexible learning approach.

In addition, teachers in a classroom setting often spend too much time dictating, writing notes, or presenting to the students with little time left for practical learning. The problem of scarce learning resources such as paperback textbooks also limits the extent of knowledge students can gain. In contrast, online learning offers a vast range of course content, a lot of which is interactive and practical so students get to practice as they learn.

So yes, the debate about which method is best may never end. But bringing it down to Africa’s realities, who says it must be one or the other? Why pitch traditional learning against online learning when they can be joined together and perhaps achieve more in optimizing learning systems?

Join me next time as we explore the marriage of these two methods a bit more.