photo credit: be-africa.org

Right now, more than 60 percent of Africans are below the age of 30. And over the next three decades, Africa will see the highest rate of population growth in the world, and will be home to the largest population of young people on earth by 2050.

With this overwhelming population of young people, good education holds the key to unlocking Africa’s human potential, and a bright future for the continent.

But there’s a big problem. In most parts of Africa, education is either low quality or prohibitively expensive.

Public schools are poorly funded, classrooms are overcrowded, teachers are overstretched and textbooks are in very short supply.

Private schools are a different matter. For many parents, they are just too expensive.

If this situation continues, over 300 million young Africans may not get good quality education. This is why the pessimists say Africa’s young population – combined with poverty and poor education — is a ticking time-bomb for the continent.

Of course, I don’t agree with the pessimists. And that’s because young and smart entrepreneurs are already rising to the challenge of solving the problem of poor quality, inaccessible and expensive education across Africa.

Because Africa’s education problems mostly affect the poor, many people often (wrongly) believe that it’s not a lucrative business opportunity. After all, how can anyone make money from serving people who have a diminished capacity to pay, right?

You’d be surprised.

In this article, we’ll meet some of the most exciting ideas, businesses and concepts that are solving the problem of education on the continent, and transforming the way we learn in Africa. These are the people making education more valuable, affordable and accessible to millions of young people on the continent.

Let’s meet them:

1) Eneza Education – Affordable and accessible learning via mobile phones

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Eneza Education

While education is out of reach for many people in Africa, mobile phones are not. These days, almost everyone – rich, poor, young and old – has a cell phone, and the continent is one of the world’s fastest growing mobile phone markets.

Founded in 2011 by three innovative entrepreneurs – Toni Maravglia, Kago Kagichiri and Chris Asego — in Kenya, Eneza Education is a virtual tutor that allows students to learn through their mobile phones. While Eneza is available as an app that can be used on smartphones, it’s also widely available via SMS (text messaging). And that’s what makes it very powerful.

Through SMS, Eneza is helping thousands of people in rural areas of Kenya to continue learning even if they cannot afford to pay for internet access or expensive phones, or if there is no data network in the area.

The best part, Eneza is not a charity. It’s a business. It makes money by charging its users a very low fee of about 10 cents per week, which is deducted from their call credit (airtime).

Today, over 500,000 people use Eneza to access courses and quizzes. And guess what? Up to 30 percent of these users do not go to school; they’re either drop-outs or older learners.

Eneza’s mission is “to make 50 million students in Africa smarter”. So far, they have raised over $700,000 from investors, competitions and awards.

2) Prepclass – Nigeria’s largest marketplace for private tutors

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Prepclass

The Joint Admissions & Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam is the most ‘feared’ university entrance exam in Nigeria. With very limited university admission slots, students (and their parents) often invest heavily in educational resources and private tutoring to increase the chances of netting a high score.

Beyond JAMB, students at primary and secondary school levels need help and private tutoring to prepare for, and perform better at, examinations.

Founded by two young and smart Nigerian entrepreneurs — Chukwuwezam Obanor and Ogunlana OlumidePrepclass is an online tutoring marketplace where clients (students and parents) hire the services of home tutors. Prepclass, which now has over 16,000 registered tutors on its platform, pays the tutors a percentage of the fees and keeps a modest commission.

Some tutors on the platform earn as high as $500; a healthy paycheck considering most teachers in the country are poorly paid.

According to Forbes, the global tutoring industry is estimated to be worth over $102.8 billion. Tutoring remains a virgin industry in Africa and presents a promising solution to the poor quality of education in many parts of the continent.

Prepclass, which is on track to achieve up to $500,000 in revenues in 2016, appears to be one of a handful of promising African startups positioning itself in this lucrative market.

The business model is pretty simple: clients pay Prepclass, and it pay the tutors a significant percentage of the earnings while retaining a commission for its administrative overhead.

3) Bridge International Academies – high-quality primary education for just $5 a month

Bridge International Academies is a chain of nursery and primary schools delivering high-quality education for an average fee of $5 a month. It has built over 400 primary schools, serving more than 100,000 students in Kenyan slums and villages.

Founded by Shannon May and Jay Kimmelman in 2008, their goal is to bring inexpensive private education to millions of children across Africa, while making money in the process. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg are some of the top backers who have invested over $100 million in this education business.

To ensure the standard and quality of education remains high across all schools in the chain, Bridge has built a formidable and standardized curriculum that is centrally managed, driven and tracked by technology.

Bridge International is spreading fast across East Africa, and recently entered the West African market. In September 2015, it opened two new schools in two suburbs of Lagos, the commercial centre of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy.

In January 2016, the Liberian government announced that the country’s entire pre-primary and primary education system would be outsourced to Bridge International Academies to manage. The deal will see the government of Liberia direct public funding for education to support services subcontracted to Bridge.

4) Ashesi University leading the way for ethical leadership in Africa

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Ashesi Universities

A student signs a pledge to uphold integrity at Ashesi (photo credit: Ashesi University)

After attending college in the USA and working for Microsoft as an engineer and product manager, Patrick Awuah returned home to Ghana in 2002 to found Ashesi University; a private, secular and liberal arts college.

Now in its 14th year, Ashesi University is one of Ghana’s top-notch universities, and stands out as a breeding ground for a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.

One shining example is its Honour Code, under which students take all examinations without invigilators, taking on the responsibility to maintain honesty in exams. This is very remarkable given the endemic nature of cheating and exam malpractice in schools across the continent.

In 2015, Patrick Awuah was awarded a fellowship by the MacArthur Foundation for his work bringing quality higher education to Ghana.

5) Andela – Building an army of world-class African software developers

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Andela

Photo credit: Andela

Andela is an impressive model that is transforming higher education in Africa – rather than charge expensive tuition for the quality of education it provides, it actually pays students to learn. Sounds crazy, right?

Co-founded by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Jeremy Johnson and two others, Andela recruits smart young Africans and trains them to become world-class software developers, who are then hired to work for blue chip technology companies in the USA, like Microsoft and several others.

In a bid to become the breeding ground for Africa’s top software developers, Andela has one of the most selective acceptance rates in the world. Compared to Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton and Columbia – which have acceptance rates above 5 percent – Andela’s acceptance rate is below 1 percent.

Andela’s plan is to train 100,000 genius-level software developers across Africa over the next 10 years. While this may sound like a pipe dream, it has already raised funding from several high-profile investors who believe in its vision to transform higher education in Africa, and produce world-class IT talent.

Some of its backers include: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, AOL co-founder Steve Case and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.

6) Omega Schools – Education for the poor, for less than $1 per day

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Omega Schools

Photo credit: ianandsandie.wordpress.com

Omega Schools is a chain of private schools that delivers low-cost quality education to children of poor families. Started in Ghana by Ken Donkoh and James Tooley in 2008, the private school chain is backed and funded by Pearson’s Affordable Learning Fund.

With over 20,000 students in its chain of 38 schools, its model of low-cost education has proven to be very attractive, such that almost every new school in the chain is fully enrolled within 10 days of opening.

Omega Schools charge an all-inclusive daily fee of about 65 US cents, which covers tuition, hot lunch, a set of workbooks, two sets of uniforms, mid and end of term assessment, and health insurance. Its specialized curriculum, assessment, technology and management modules enable it to provide high-quality education that can be rolled out on a grand scale to reach millions of children from poor families.

7) African Leadership Universities – Re-imagining and disrupting university education in Africa

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- ALU

Photo credit: africanleadershipacademy.org

The African Leadership Universities (ALU) is on a mission to transform how African students learn, while turning the nature, structure and legacy of university education on the continent on its head. ALU is a network of 25 world-class universities across Africa that will graduate over 250,000 highly-trained leaders on the continent.

The first of these universities has already opened on the island of Mauritius, and a second is underway in Rwanda.

With students from over 45 countries in Africa, ALU is building a pan-African brand of universities that rivals Ivy League institutions like Harvard and Oxford. Already, several multinationals like Coca Cola, Tiger Brands, McKinsey, PwC, Boston Consulting Group and IBM are backing the ALU by providing funding and internships for students. It has also attracted investment from deep-pocketed investors like the Omidyar Network.

The brain behind ALU is Fred Swaniker, a serial entrepreneur and one of Africa’s youngest and most promising leadership development experts. He co-founded the Africa Leadership Academy, a hugely successful residential secondary school in South Africa which has graduated some of the most promising talent on the continent.

Fred is a TED Fellow, a World Economic Forum ‘Young Global Leader’, and has been described as one of the ‘Top 10 Young Power Men in Africa’ by Forbes Magazine, among several other honours.

8) Ubongo – Making math and science fun to learn

8 Ideas changing education in Africa -- Ubongo

Math and science are two of the most difficult subjects for kids to learn in school. And this is why Ubongo is a unique social enterprise on Africa’s education scene.

Founded and based in Tanzania, Ubongo creates fun animated educational content in local languages and formats that are suited for African learners. Its flagship program – Ubongo Kids — currently reaches over 1.5 million children throughout East Africa via television programming and an interactive SMS channel.

Since it launched in July 2013, the feedback has been great. According to the company, about 24 percent of Tanzanian parents watch Ubongo Kids with their children and other family members. These parents are impressed by how Ubongo Kids has ‘transformed learning from a difficult, rigid, and serious activity to something entertaining and relatable.’

Ubongo is making serious plans to spread across the continent by targeting key markets like Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

In January 2015, it received $75,000 in seed funding to help it expand after coming through a six-month incubation programme organised by learning firm, Pearson, in collaboration with Village Capital.

Change is coming to Africa!

The future belongs to Africa. But the key to that bright future is good quality and widespread education.

Greater access to high-quality and affordable education will change the fortunes and lives of millions of people on the continent. With better education will come greater access to opportunities that will enable people to earn an income, become self-reliant and contribute towards the social and economic development of Africa.

It is the work of ambitious education entrepreneurs or ‘edupreneurs’ in this article, and more who will join them, that gives me great confidence in a stable, vibrant and prosperous future for Africa.

In a future of aging populations in the developed world, a dominant pool of young, educated and progressive Africans have a strong chance to lead the continent into ‘first world’ status and bring about social, economic, political and technological transformation.

The good work has already begun. Let’s sustain the progress and increase the impact.

Let’s go Africa!