Empowering education in Africa: Insights from South African EdTech Week 2023

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November 6, 2023

The annual South African EdTech Week conference in Cape Town, hosted by Injini in partnership with Wesgro and the Mastercard Foundation from October 25-27, brought together passionate individuals dedicated to enhancing education across Africa.

The state of EdTech and education in South Africa and beyond

With South Africa facing significant challenges in access to quality education, the event highlighted substantial opportunities for EdTech initiatives. These challenges include Africa's growing youth population, a shortage of teachers, and low literacy and numeracy levels, which underscore the need for innovative educational interventions.

The first day of the conference focused on funding for EdTech businesses and also featured Demo Day for the 12 local EdTech companies selected for the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program. This programme offers six months of tailored support, encompassing financial aid, collaboration opportunities, skill enhancement, and gap-filling measures, among other forms of assistance.

Overall, SA EdTech Week aimed to harness technology to address national educational challenges, providing a platform for entrepreneurs and innovators to drive positive change in education.

DAY ONE: Fueling EdTech through investment

Day one brought together thought leaders, investors, and philanthropists, setting the stage for a dynamic start to the event. The highlight of the day was a panel discussion and Q&A session featuring prominent figures in the field. Sharon Dlomo from Allan Gray E Squared Ventures, Gilbert Anyetei from Innovation Edge, and Khaya Makhubu from ELMA Philanthropies offered diverse perspectives on EdTech investments.

Each panellist represented distinct investment approaches. Allan Gray emphasised business returns, Innovation Edge focused on social impact, and ELMA Philanthropies aimed to enhance the lives of children in Africa, employing grants and direct investments with a more extended investment horizon.

The discussion revolved around the challenges and opportunities in the EdTech investment landscape, with a particular focus on the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into education. While some advocated for AI to alleviate challenges posed by overcrowded classrooms, others cautioned against potential risks and Western biases in AI-generated content.

As the day unfolded, the panel offered valuable advice for aspiring EdTech entrepreneurs. Dlomo encouraged considering patient capital for solutions with a longer lifespan, Anyetei highlighted the need for investments to match specific needs, and Makhubu underlined the competitive nature of philanthropic and patient capital, urging founders to carefully select their funders.

The Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program Demo Day

The first day ended with the "Demo Day" for the 12 local EdTech companies that had been participating in the 2023 Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program. This program offers six months of tailored support, encompassing financial aid, collaboration opportunities, skill enhancement, and gap-filling measures, among other forms of assistance. These promising initiatives aim to harness technology to tackle South Africa's educational challenges and drive positive change. Demo Day served as yet anotherplatform for them to present their work and attract new partners.

DAY TWO: Government insights and collaboration

Day two continued to impress with an array of insightful sessions, engaging discussions, and thought-provoking workshops. Western Cape Minister of Education, David Maynier, provided an insightful glimpse into the realities faced by local government in the realm of education.

Minister Maynier highlighted the increasing pressure on the local Education Department due to the growing school-going population and the need for new school places. He also shared updates on educational initiatives, including the Apex School project and the Back on Track Programme, focusing on digitising learning material.

Crucially, Minister Maynier emphasised that providing hardware alone is insufficient for successful EdTech implementation. He commended the fact that nearly 50% of EdTech businesses are based in the Western Cape, highlighting Cape Town's rising status as a technology hub.

A panel discussion and roundtable discussions added depth to the day's discourse, stressing the need for economically viable and educationally meaningful solutions, the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learners, and the potential of digital technology to improve access to education.

DAY THREE: Philanthropy, challenges, and innovation

Day three marked the culmination of South African EdTech Week 2023, featuring thought leaders and changemakers coming together to explore innovative solutions to pressing challenges in African education.

Wendy Viljoen, Education Specialist at Wesgro, highlighted the impact of EdTech businesses in the Western Cape, with Frank Aswani, CEO of the African Venture Philanthropy Alliance (AVPA), who discussed challenges and opportunities within the African education sphere, emphasising the need for risk capital to drive change in the continent.

The discussions addressed critical challenges, innovative funding sources, the importance of execution over perfection, and the potential for investment in the education sector to yield positive returns.

The keynote address by Melvyn Lubega, Founding Executive Director of EdTech unicorn Go1, focused on the powerful role of quality education and the importance of respecting and retraining teachers in the EdTech era.

The South African EdTech Week 2023 served as a dynamic platform to exchange ideas, insights, and innovative solutions, providing hope and inspiration for the future of education in Africa. Keep an eye on our YouTube channel for a highlight reel video coming soon!