Strengthening Education in Africa: The Essential Role of ICT in Building Resilient Learning Systems

Photo: Desola Lanre-Ologun, Unsplash

On the 5th of May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to the COVID-19 Health Emergency. It marked an official end to a challenging period when humanity tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy amidst a relatively new disease outbreak that necessitated adaptive management approaches to try and cope. Despite this declaration, global economic levers are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Supply chains are yet to fully restart, commodity prices are returning to pre-pandemic levels just as economies are working hard to recover from a slump. African economies are dealing with multiple shocks worsened by the war in Ukraine. Some of these include weaker external demand, a sharp uptick in global inflation, higher borrowing costs and adverse weather events. Real output losses compared to pre-pandemic projections remain large, with Africa remaining a full 2.4 percentage points below its pre-pandemic projected real output. 

In the education sector, schools have since reopened but the learning loss and school years lost to the pandemic may never be recovered. About 1.57 billion learners globally were unable to access education1. In Africa, the situation worsened an already bad situation, with 140 million children unable to access learning2, increasing the number of out-of-school children. A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on education showed that Grade II students in South Africa3 lost between 57% - 70% of a year of learning comparative to pre-pandemic levels. Uganda4 closed schools for two years, which made it difficult to address worsening reading and comprehension competency among pupils. 

These challenges underscored the need to evolve a resilient, forward looking education system that can withstand crises such as COVID-19. This is even more pertinent in Africa, where learning outcomes were at crisis level before the pandemic. Stakeholders consistently allude to the value of introducing or expanding the use of technology in all facets of education in Africa, especially around delivering teaching and learning. Technology remains a solution that can help the continent catch up with global education standards of the 21st century. The Ministerial Declaration from the ADEA 2022 Triennale recognized the ‘role of innovative and disruptive technologies’ in mitigating learning loss and ensuring the continuity of learning during crisis. Ministers of Education and ministerial delegations at the Triennale made a commitment to, ‘embrace digitalization to improve the sustainable delivery of education and training in Africa.’ These include using technology to drive digital skilling of teachers and pursuing an aggressive investment digital transformation and infrastructure. Similarly, the premier Spotlight Report on Basic Education Completion and Foundational Learning in Africa recognized efforts by partners to leverage technology in the production of reading materials in national languages.  

But technology is expensive and may contribute to widening the digital divide and worsen access to quality teaching and learning, especially for rural and high poverty households. It implies that countries need to prioritize their expenditure, deepen investment in critical infrastructure and find a model that will ensure that every child, regardless of economic status or location, benefits from quality education mediated by technology. In recognition of this need, and to support member countries to expand their capacity in the use of technology in education, ADEA conducted a study on the use of ICT in education and remote learning during crisis in 34 african countries5 in Africa, commissioned by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) and supported by the Mastercard Foundation and the government of Japan. The study assessed the status and capacities of the participating countries on ICT in education and remote learning. We reviewed the state of preparation of the study countries in support of ICT use in education and how technology solutions were deployed to mitigate learning losses during COVID-19. We also wanted to provide empirical basis to support country-level ambitions embodied in the Ministerial Declaration. The study covered basic and secondary education, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education. 

Inadequate electricity and ICT infrastructure provision deepening learning exclusion.

While findings varied from across the study countries, a key denominator was the lack of infrastructure to mainstream digital technologies in learning institutions. This is indeed an essential backbone towards addressing exclusion in education. For instance, many countries lacked electricity or reliable energy sources to power and sustain learning devices. Apart from Mauritius, most countries on the continent will require investments in electricity provision to schools, especially in rural and peri-urban locations, to ensure learners in remote areas leverage the same as their counterparts in urban centers. 

Similarly, despite the existence of various government-led and private sector initiatives targeted at ICT integration in education, outdated or non-existent infrastructure is hampering ICT use in teaching and learning. ICT infrastructure in schools are not up-to-date in most study countries and non-existent in others. As a result, ICT use in teaching and learning remains poor across schools while internet connectivity remains a challenge for schools.

At the policy level, most study countries have established policies on education while most have policies on ICT. However, few have specific policies on the use of ICT in education. It is also commonplace to find “ICT in Education” as a component of either the education or ICT policy or both. Regardless of the situation in the study countries, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that a smooth transition to inclusive digital learning for all stakeholders was a key challenge for all study countries as a result of policy gaps. This is resulting in weak or slow adaptability of education systems in times of emergencies that ensures learning continuity; an important feature of a resilient education system.

Weak digital competence of the education workforce in study-countries was evident. While countries have invested extensively in infrastructure to support their vision for digital learning, the implementation of digital teaching and learning during the pandemic was impeded by a lack of ICT-ready capacity among teachers. An appropriately trained and engaged teaching workforce is an important driver for an effective, competency-based education system. While most countries showed notable transformation in the education workforce, especially in capacity-building and competency development, others still lagged. Skills gap manifested in teacher inability to connect and access digital facilities and content, lack of readiness for the rapid transition to remote learning, poor skills in digital course content creation, and poor capacity to manage digital classrooms remain key challenges.

Recommended priority investments to accelerate ICT in education and promote inclusive and equitable learning.

To help countries meet their quest to leverage ICT in education to improve the sector’s resilience, the study report urged countries to build appropriate supporting infrastructure, prioritize sound pedagogy, and train educators to effectively use ICT to support instruction, in addition to building the overall systemic ICT capacity. Critical recommendations include improving electricity supply in the study countries especially in schools and households in rural areas, and expanding investment in internet infrastructure, broadband connectivity and increasing penetration of television and radio especially in schools located in rural and peri-urban centres.

Building educator capacity and those of policy makers in ICT use is critical in accelerating ICT uptake in education. The study proposes a revision of the teacher training curricula and strengthening the capacity of pre-service and in-service teachers in the use of ICT in teaching and learning. Equally, it recommends the development of a high quality professional Digital Leadership Development program for the heads of educational institutions to create an enabling environment for visioning, coherent policy making and driving the educational transformation at school level. Another essential recommendation recognized the value of leadership and management capacity in school administrators. They are critical to mainstreaming digital technology in teaching and learning at the school level. 

Countries also need to find a model to fast-track mainstreaming of the use of ICT in teaching and learning. This can be achieved by developing mass digital literacy programs for citizens, putting in place strategies to ensure the use of high-tech tools and devices both in schools and in households, and providing e-materials and curriculum-adapted learning resources for other media like radio and television.

Curriculum updates may be necessary to embrace 21st century digital teaching and learning and assessment modes for student evaluation, by replacing knowledge-based tests with alternative modes of assessments that focus on achievement of learning outcomes.


Technology is no silver bullet that addresses all education challenges in Africa. But its appropriate application can extensively address many of the teething issues in teaching and learning, if leveraged properly. It brings transformative potential and should be considered an investment with benefits that go beyond education. Harnessing the power of ICT can result in a resilient and inclusive education system and an innovative work force, while empowering the next generation of learners in Africa.

At a broader level, countries must recognize the need to build partnership and commit themselves to solving issues of poverty and hunger especially, as enshrined in the second of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2) and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25). The ICT-in-Education study has demonstrated that while ICT provides solutions to myriad challenges, especially in poverty eradication and education, it can be ineffective without the right investment. Furthermore, deploying ICT without the right backbone could result in resource waste. Equally, there are deeper concerns that African countries need to address before they can effectively leverage ICT for improved educational services in an equitable manner.

  1. UNESCO – Global Education Coalition:
  2. ADEA Country Status Report on Delivering Education at Home in African Member States amid the COVID-19 Pandemic:
  3. COVID-19 Learning Losses: Early Grade Reading in South Africa:
  4. Uganda’s Record-Breaking Two-Year School Closure Led to…..No Decline in Number of Kids Who Can Read?
  5. Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.