A recent study shows that Africa is under-represented in world-class schools. Even if we have the most Voltairean speeches, or great minds working in prestigious institutions such as NASA, Harvard, or the IEP (Institute for Economics and Peace), none of this will hide the misery of the continent’s educational system.

There are few exceptions to this reality such as the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD) in Senegal, which is the only French-speaking sub-Saharan African university in a number of international rankings. UCAD aside, the levels of education in Africa are poor and students face many difficulties. On average, only 5% of young people have access to higher education and this glaring lack of infrastructure of course means less graduates and less representation of Africans in all fields across the board. Education in Africa is experiencing a major crisis.

What solutions are left for the youth that is eager to learn and ready to invest in their future? We’ve identified 2 alternative options: private universities and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

A relatively recent phenomenon, the private provision of education in Africa began to develop in the 1990s. Until recently, all institutions of higher education were under the aegis of the public authorities, particularly in French-speaking Africa. This system, inherited from colonial administrations, was based on the idea that social services were the responsibility of the state. Today, faced with the collapse of public authorities in various African countries, private initiatives have developed to foster the well-being of the younger population in search of educational opportunities. To hell with understaffing and outdated teachings! Students get their money’s worth with private institutions.

“Overall, private institutions and MOOCs cannot replace the traditional educational model nor are they intended to. Rather they offer an alternative or even complementary educational system.”

Unfortunately, by default, access to these private schools is only available to the elite. Moreover, these new educational developers of the private sector do not come with purely philanthropic motivations. Greed and/or proselytism are in many cases a renewed interest for the continent. In South Africa, for example, the enthusiasm for education is driven not only by local institutions, but also by cross-border suppliers mainly from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. In Kenya on the other hand, the majority of higher education institutions are funded by religious organizations. The situation is the same in Zimbabwe as well. While private education is regrettably not for everyone, the MOOC remains a reliable alternative. MOOCs essentially represent a dematerialization of higher education that is free and open to all, offering students the opportunity to study in the largest university in the world. MOOCs seem to offer only advantages at first glance: Students can bypass struggling with the lack of resources available in African universities and instead gain direct access to experts from all over the world. 

Accessibility to the Internet, however, is a significant barrier. According to the International Telecommunication Union, only 16% of Sub-Saharan Africans use the Internet, not to mention the catastrophic rate of insufficient computer technology and frequent power outages. Technology is key to using MOOCs 100% digital content. The old school of thought places value on receiving a diploma but this new generation of MOOC followers, do not focus on a piece of paper. On the contrary, they consume MOOCs as learning modules, that provide knowledge and insight into topics of interest. 

Overall, private institutions and MOOCs cannot replace the traditional educational model nor are they intended to. Rather they offer an alternative or even complementary educational system. There will always be advantages and disadvantages in any mode of education but it can be said without hesitation that these alternatives offer an up to date and quality education superior to the public option.