I co-founded Big Brain Zimbabwe in 2013 and was involved in a number of eLearning projects in Zimbabwe. I have watched other entrepreneurs trying to venture into the education sector, coming in with amazing technological solutions with the potential for great impact which can improve the studies of ordinary Zimbabwean students. However, no significant education technology product is available in Zimbabwe right now. Why?
Here are my 5 reasons why e-learning startups fail in Zimbabwe.
NB: I am going to make some generalizations below. Clearly there are nuances around education policy, economic policy, technology, and more. But this is a blog post, not a book, so take it for what it’s worth. These views are my own.
1. We have a very low teacher computer literacy level – Sadly, most teachers do not know how to use computers. That has a direct impact on the way e-learning of any form is rolled out in Zimbabwe.
2. Most entrepreneurs in education build the wrong type of business because e-learning entrepreneurs generally think of education as a quality problem. However, the average Zimbabwean thinks of it as a cost problem. If the dollars and cents issue is not being addressed, or if it is not a priority, then the e-learning solution loses support.
3. Too much bureaucracy in the Ministry of Primary & Secondary Education – it takes ages (it is still next to impossible) to be given permission to enter into schools.
4. A big part of e-learning startup failure is the conflict of interest among the parties. For an individual teacher to adopt a new technology, it is not super difficult; you just have to solve a real pain point for them or show that your tool can help them actually teach students.
However, for Zimbabwean teachers to use ICT or technology in classrooms, they have to invest (using their personal money) to acquire something (Gadget, skill, or data bundles). Schools and Government are not supporting teachers to equip them with digital skills or anything. Most teachers have acquired personal laptops to do school stuff. This is problematic when you consider how teachers are severely underpaid professionals. Why should they then champion new learning technology when it goes against personal economic reasoning?
5. Internet Access – Getting internet access is still a huge challenge for most the students and not all schools have access to online resources.
Assuming that these challenges are addressed, there might be a significant shift in the success rate of e-learning startups. Some efforts are constantly being made to solve some of these problems. However, in most of the cases, the problems are left squarely to the startup to figure out.
As much as that represents the true definition of being a startup entrepreneur – solving a host of problems that stand in the way of success, there needs to be active involvement from other stakeholders that can make a huge impact. Yes, the government is a huge contributor in all of this, but where parents and schools can contribute to the cause, they should.
Private enterprises and investors might also follow solid frameworks for e-learning that show a strong commitment by other stakeholders to adopt and effectively use e-learning solutions.
At times, all it takes is active participation in new learning endeavours, and an adoption, even on an experimental basis, of learning techniques that could well be the next chapter in education.
This article was written by Timothy Shava, the founder of Big Brain Zimbabwe, a local e-learning startup using online and offline technology to solve problems in education.