Three challenges related to AI in education in sub-Saharan Africa

By artificial intelligence (AI), we mean a process of imitation of human intelligence made possible, thanks to the creation and application of sophisticated algorithms. If, under other skies, artificial intelligence is experiencing a great expansion like the UNITED STATESin Africa, even if the situation is not the same across the continent, the train is still struggling to get going despite the creation of a multitude of startups, most of which are involved in the fields of health , …[1] like Lifebank [2]. Karim Koundi, partner at Deloitte Francophone Africa, sees things no differently when he says that “Africa is lagging behind but there is a strong dynamic, with a lot of startups. »[3].

If there is one area that could benefit from the development of AI technologies in Africa, it is education, as hammered Audrey Azoulay, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). But several structural obstacles seem to be holding back the emergence of this sector. So what are they?

energy

The development of artificial intelligence in Africa depends on access to a reliable source of energy, whether electric or not, to operate machines and achieve innovations. But access to electrical energy in sub-Saharan Africa is characterized by its scarcity. This is all the more true since in 2011, while the electrification rate in North Africa was 99%, in sub-Saharan Africa the electrification rate did not go beyond 32%. The glaring lack of this convenience has serious consequences for the improvement of socio-economic conditions.

Indeed, this lack has a negative effect in the field of education and health and keeps the population in a state of poverty. However, electrification is a development factor; it boosts productivity, improves the health system and especially the level of household education. As an example, let us mention the closing of the Silicon Valley of Buea in Cameroon, due to lack of power supply, lasting 93 days. It incurs the disappearance, expatriation and relocation of certain local startups to French-speaking areas. And yet, Buea was “the epicenter of the digital economy”[4].

In view of the above, it is agreed that the absence of electricity prevents the improvement of productivity, and affects the level of study in the sense that the low electrification does not give the possibility to young people to use their computers. for those who have it, to do research or to develop start-ups. Because computers and many other AI supports need energy to function.

The rise in electrification is not the only challenge that sub-Saharan Africa must meet to try to catch up with regard to AI compared to certain nations which have established their notoriety in this field. It is also important to improve access to internet connection.

A limited internet connection

“The cutting edge of digital is artificial intelligence. says Henri Verdier, head of the interministerial department for digital and the information and communication system of the French State. This statement means that the first step to moving towards the technologies contained in AI is above all to have access to the internet. But if at first glance this data is broke, it is obvious that it will be difficult to take advantage of the innovations generated by AI.

If it is true that the 21st century corresponds to the era of the virtual and that on certain continents, notably those of Europe and Asia, this phenomenon has already reached its peak, in Africa, despite multiple developments, it is lagging behind, more specifically its sub-Saharan part. In fact, Raph Straumann and Mark Graham have developed a cartography of the most disconnected countries based on data from the 2013 Development Indicators and Natural Earth. It shows that sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the continent where access to the Internet is the weakest with a penetration threshold of less than 10%.

Result of the races, this region is largely kept away from the cultural, educational, political and economic activities underpinned by this tool[5]. And as a result, the sharing of knowledge (through MOOCs for example), which is at the very origin of the development of such a network, is limited at the base, which constitutes a brake for the field of education.

An educational field struggling to keep up with the IT bandwagon

If artificial intelligence is a datum capable of revolutionizing education everywhere else and even in Africa, by personalizing it according to the needs of the learner, all the conditions for this feat to be achieved are not yet met. Indeed, even if at the level of schools it has been noted that computer courses are given and even that computer series are open in Africa and more particularly in Cameroon, it is the theorical class which are advocated because of the almost non-existence of computer tools.

Under these conditions, we see that it is difficult to instill the basics of computer science in young learners and even less of AI. As a result, in this context, familiarizing learners with AI could seem like gibberish to them. And yet one of the prerequisites for mastering the world of AI is to master the computer tool. This lack in schools that are supposed to intervene in this area testifies to a deeper problem and a clear reflection of the technological backwardness in Africa.

This delay will be even more pronounced when the transition from artificial intelligence to quantum intelligence is effective. AI limits have been recorded, it is less efficient than quantum intelligence. In short, Africa will have to try to make up for its double delay.

To do this, it is important that the policy provide schools with support measures to fill this gap on the one hand, and on the other hand, it seems necessary that teachers are better off with regard to the AI and more fundamentally ICT, the latter being empowered to transmit knowledge. For this, it is important to revisit certain aspects of their training.

As Baron (2000) asserted, “new technologies are complex systems; their integration into school will take place if we take into account the different dimensions of teacher training: technical training, necessarily long appropriation and pedagogical training”.

References

– Assogba Christophe, 2015, “Internet access remains low in Africa”, online

– Kenne Josiale, “The introduction of computing in Cameroon, teaching of computing in secondary school”, online
https://edutice.archives-ouvertes.fr/edutice-00558936/file/a0910e.htm

– Shamkwa Paul, 2022, “Towards the disappearance of the silicon valley of Buea due to lack of electricity”, radio Balafon, online
https://chateaunews.com/fr/2022/03/26/vers-la-disparition-de-la-silicon-valley-de-buea-faute-delectricite/

– Torero Maximo, 2015, “The impact of rural electrification: challenges and prospects”, Revue d’économie du développement, no 23, Vol23, pp 55-83/, online
https://www.cairn.info/revue-d-economie-du-developpement-2015-3-page-55.htm

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[1]Steven Sutherland, 2020, “Equipping the Next Generation of AI Entrepreneurs in Africa”, online
https://telecoms.adaptit.tech/fr/blog/equipping-africas-next-gen-of-ai-entrepreneurs/

[2] It is a question respectively of the Beninese and Nigerian startups which are deployed in the field of health

[3] African business journal, 2020, “AI in Africa: untapped potential”, online
https://africanbusinessjournal.info/ia-en-afrique-un-potential-encore-inexploite/

[4] Paul Shamkwa 2022, “towards the disappearance of the silicon valley of Buea due to lack of electricity”, radio Balafon, online
https://chateaunews.com/fr/2022/03/26/vers-la-disparition-de-la-silicon-valley-de-buea-faute-delectricite/

[5] Assogba Christophe, 2015, “the internet access rate remains low in Africa”, online


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Three challenges related to AI in education in sub-Saharan Africa


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