Africa: Emerging Technologies in Edtech: The Role of Big Data in Advancing Education

Big data—two words that define the vast amount of information available online as the internet becomes widely available. Since 2020, educational organizations, policymakers, and other players in this space have had access to more data than ever before.

According to UNESCO, the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 is dependent on opportunities and challenges posed by technology, with technology appearing in six out of the 10 targets on education. The implication of digital technology is that education systems have begun producing enormous amounts of data. Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, the Chief Minister and Chief Innovation Officer of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone, is quoted in this report saying, “…When it works well, the data we generate in our education system is the best guide for the policies we need to implement to make things better.”

While big data is already changing the global education landscape and increasing opportunities for nations to use it in making sound decisions, governments and educational organizations in Africa are still in the nascent stages of conceptualizing data collection and lagging in their engagement with big data analytics.

The March edition of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Mondays Africa explored how the continent’s educational leaders and policymakers can use big data to develop organizational capacity and improve outcomes for students, educators, and their communities. For this interaction to take place, it is vital to understand the wide scope of big data as outlined by one of the panelists, Chinedu Anarado, a Communications Specialist at the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), a pan-African network of policymakers, practitioners and researchers that sits within the African Development Bank.

“Big data in education refers to huge and diverse volumes of structured or unstructured data from different educational activities. There are different data sources, including audio, video and other day-to-day activities that underpin teaching and learning,” said Chinedu.

Such data is familiar, but the way we collect and store it may differ, according to Ciku Mbugua, Innovation Manager at Brink and Country Lead at EdTech Hub (Kenya). For big data to be helpful in education, she advises educators and civil authorities to question, “Why do we want big data? What is it that we want our education system to look like? Are we talking about quality and equity?”

Answers to these questions, says Ciku, will help address gaps in the education system and help learners know where they are before reaching the school summative stage “when nothing can be done for them because they have left the education system.”

Joshua Chijioke, a three-time tech startup founder who currently heads business development at MTN Chenosis in Nigeria, adds that any meaningful data in education should be used to modernize curricula taught in African schools, some of which are archaic. By deploying such data at the basic learning level, Chijioke is optimistic that learners in Africa will be exposed to extensive data analysis in the future and be at par with global education standards.

Related: Investing In Education for Transformative Learning

In much of the continent, however, such data sits in silos and is hard to navigate due to a lack of local mechanisms, although governmental authorities could use it as an indicator of social inequalities in education.

“Use of data helps governments to gauge why education stakeholders in marginalized areas may not be engaging with education in the way they should,” says Luke Stannard, a Senior Education Advisor at Save the Children. Luke has supported education authorities and teams with the design, implementation, and evaluation of education technology initiatives in humanitarian and development contexts worldwide. “For organizations with mandates around child rights, data allows them to encourage governments to be more accountable in their education systems and monitor where the students are falling behind.”

In addition, EdTech startups in countries such as Nigeria are being helped to curate support systems that use technology to address learning challenges.

For example, EduTAMS, an integrated cloud-based solution, is helping to automate and digitize education processes in schools while providing seamless data collection for interactive learning processes. EduTAMS is a platform designed to solve Nigeria’s education management challenges. It allows educators to gain insight into real-time data analytics on enrolment, payments, registration and student results across school divisions to take informed decision. Parents can track attendance and process student continuous assessment reports and end-of-term results.

EduTAMS is one of 36 EdTech companies accelerated in 2023 under the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship being implemented in partnership with Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria, Injini in South Africa, and iHub in Kenya. The Fellowship is an entrepreneurship acceleration program designed to support promising African EdTech ventures.

Solutions like EduTAMS are evidence that data is an opportunity within the education system.

In conclusion, while big data presents various challenges in infrastructure provision and resource constraints, as well as privacy and security concerns, the benefits this emerging technology can solve outweigh the challenges it presents. It is important for governments to strengthen data protection policies and ensure total inclusion by moving the conversation from equality to equity.

Learn More About Mastercard Foundation’s Work in EdTech