One of the success stories in the Ethiopian education sector is increased reachability over the past fifteen years. At one point, the Ministry of Education declared access to education has reached more than 99Pct. As much as public schools have played a significant role here, private investment in education has also played an indispensable role. Missing in the story, of course, is the quality of education—a point of discussion in most high-level dialogues concerning the nation’s social, economic, and political path. As a fairly recent phenomenon, online businesses have joined the sector in an attempt to offer increased access and quality. Even though their impact, both as a business model and educationalist, is yet to be tested, these new academic business models are believed to offer something unique and untried, writes EBR’s Eden Teshome.
For Befikadu Damtew, a former geography teacher at various private schools and now a Customer Service Officer at a private bank, going to school does not seem to have an end. A graduate of Addis Ababa University, he was hired as a teacher back in 2008. But his excitement at securing employment was short-lived as he would soon realize a first degree is not good enough.
Having contemplated what to study and prevail over competition in the labor market, he registered to study accounting at a private college.
“That time, again, seemed like the second degree was good enough to win it all,” Befikadu told EBR.
As the financial sector was expanding and attracting labor, the plan for him was to join a bank. Employment at a private bank ranked highly in the general public’s view and he considered it to be the end game. Now, having finalized his second degree and worked for about two years, he again says it is not good enough.
“The banks are now flooded by young employees and more seem to be coming in,” Befikadu says. “It has been a while since I considered going back to school.”
The problem for him now is that there is no free time to spend on further education; he’s even more busy than the average employee working until 7 PM six days a week. As necessary as it may seem for him, going to school is not easy.
“That is when I heard a man talking about an online master’s program on a Sunday evening local television talk show,” Befikadu recalls hearing of the new opportunity that could give him additional ammunition to fight in the labor market—an opportunity which he is considering very seriously.
The man in the TV was talking about a new digitally-supported college which offered distance education. Distance education has become more accessible than ever before in Ethiopia. Owing to technological improvements, local colleges are now offering first and second degree programs, facilitating students in learning in the comfort of their own homes or offices. The Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) has given authorization to these colleges with Yardstick International College, ET Online College, ST American College of Technology, and Light Map College among the accredited. The licenses were given in accordance with the recently drafted legislation governing educational institutions that deliver their services online.
ET Online College, a Lucy Consulting Engineers affiliate, offers high-quality 100Pct-online degree programs at various price points and packages. The online institute has brought in what could be a unique student experience to the education sector. The college offers both under- and post-graduate programs in which students can complete at their own pace from anywhere with an internet connection.
It offers bachelor degrees under accounting, management, marketing, logistics, and economics fields, alongside postgraduate offerings in business administration and development economics. Undergraduate programs cost around ETB167,000 while postgraduate courses indulge around ETB87,900.
“I am definitely considering this option,” Befikadu says.
ET Online College is not the only one, however. School of Cloud, a product of EagleLion System Technology, is created with the goal of supporting Ethiopia’s educational system and to create a better educated generation. Claiming to be the first of its kind in Ethiopia, the company aspires to be the best digital school in the Horn of Africa. Unlike ET Online College, School of Cloud is considering availing its service to pre-college students. Much of it is still in the making, but the founders hope the new digital scheme will immensely impact the nation’s educational system.
Bersufekad Getachew, Founder and CEO of EagleLion, believes the establishment of digital schools will be very impactful. “School of Cloud also plans to provide an education system of quality to students in elementary grades by next year using mobile tablets in order to provide quality education for the next generation,” Bersufekad told EBR.
Customers can register on the platform’s website and gain access to self-education videos for as little as ETB100. The platform is additionally planning to release a mobile app soon.
Even though they are just starting in Ethiopia, online education businesses have boomed elsewhere. According to the World Bank, in 2009, there were 165 million students enrolled in higher education courses worldwide, and this number is expected to grow to more than 263 million by 2025. With more and more students flocking to virtual classrooms every year, the industry is expected to be worth USD275 billion by 2025.
Kenya has made great strides in the field of online education. According to recent figures, there are now more than 1.5 million students studying online courses in Kenya, making it one of the largest online education markets in Africa. This number is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, as businesses and individuals increasingly recognize the value of online learning.
There are a number of reasons for this growth: firstly, Kenya has a large population of young people who are eager to gain new skills and knowledge; secondly, internet access is increasingly widespread across the country; and thirdly, there is growing demand for affordable quality education.
The same can also be said of South Africa. A recent study by the South African Online Education Business Association (SAOEBA) found that the online education market in South Africa is growing rapidly. The study found that there are now more than 1,000 online education providers in the nation and that these providers offer more than 5,000 courses. The study also found that the average tuition for an online course in South Africa is around USD230 and that students can save up to 50Pct on tuition costs by taking courses online.
According to recent figures, the industry is worth an estimated USD166 million and is growing at a rate of 20Pct per year. This makes it one of the country’s most rapidly-growing sectors. There are now more than 400 registered online learning providers, offering a wide range of courses covering everything from basic literacy to postgraduate degrees.
According to a recent study by the consulting firm Technavio, China is the country with the biggest online education market in the world. The Chinese will spend an estimated USD48.5 billion on online education in 2021, accounting for more than 60Pct of global spending. This growth is being driven by rising demand from students and parents for affordable and convenient educational options. In addition, many universities in China are offering online courses as an alternative or supplement to traditional on-campus instruction.
One of the main drivers of this growth has been the increasing availability and affordability of broadband internet access. In addition, there has been a shift in attitudes towards online learning, with many people now seeing it as a credible alternative to traditional forms of education. As a result, demand for online courses continues to grow, with more and more people choosing to study remotely via the internet. This growth can be attributed to a number of factors such as the increasing demand for skilled workers, technological advancements that have made online learning more accessible and affordable, and the flexibility it offers students.
There are many benefits of online education, chief among them is convenience and flexibility. With no need to commute or attend class in person, students can study at their own pace and from anywhere in the world. This makes it an ideal option for busy professionals or parents with children to care for. Additionally, online courses often cost less than traditional ones—a major consideration for cash-strapped students.
Despite these advantages, there are some who remain skeptical about the quality of online education. Critics argue that it’s harder to build relationships with professors and classmates in a virtual setting and that face-to-face interaction is essential for learning effectively. However, research has shown that this isn’t always the case; many students report high levels of satisfaction with their online courses.
The benefits of studying online are many and varied. For businesses, e-learning can help employees keep up with new developments in their field or learn about new products and services. It can also help improve communication within teams and boost productivity levels. For individuals, e-learning can provide access to high-quality courses that might not be available locally or be too expensive to attend physical classes.
Befikadu recognizes the benefits of these new online education businesses as much as he recognizes the fast-changing dynamics of the industry he serves.
“I know the industry will require more by the time I am done with my next course, yet, staying away from school will even be worse.”
EBR 10th Year • Apr 2022 • No. 106