In October 21st 2022, I had the honour to attend the panel discussion Embracing digitalisation to improve the sustainable delivery of education and training in Africa in ADEA Trennale 2022. My topic was focused on how digitalisation can support building education ecosystems. The ADEA Triennale is one of Africa’s high-level forums for political dialogue on education. The conference focuses on critical themes that transform Africa’s educational systems for sustainable social and economic development.
The objective of the panel discussion was to share experiences and working practices around EdTech issues, share ways how African countries are supporting ICT-oriented education and explore possibilities in regional cooperation. Below you find my contribution to the panel session based on the Recommendation Paper written in collaboration with Dr. Altti Lagstedt during the Edupreneurs project.
In order to adress the question “How digitalization can support education ecosystem building?”, I decided to break it down into three main elements:
- Ecosystem and its stakeholders
- Building resilient ecosystems
- Supporting ecosystem building through digitalisation
1. ECOSYSTEM AND ITS STAKEHOLDER
When a new education ecosystem is being built, it is important to understand who the main actors are and what their roles are. Research (e.g. The Triple Helix Model from Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000) has indicated three main players, each with important roles: government, academia (schools, HEIs and TVETS), and industry (companies). All parties have an important role to play in ecosystem building.
For instance, the industry has the role of concretizing the business opportunities based on the ecosystem needs (demands from the market), as well as providing funding, R&D resources, skills and competences. The academia can contribute with the innovative research collaboration and its know-how. And the government brings the resources to develop society at a higher level, such as tax management and money re-distribution.
In order to be functional, an ecosystem normally has a keystone organisation for orchestrating the innovation, cooperation, and offerings of the ecosystem. While keystone organisations benefit from their leading position and from the (financial) “blessings” from government alliances, they must also create value efficiently within the ecosystem.
The Ghana Digital Center and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) could be considered examples of leading organizations in education ecosystems. They follow government regulations but also have quite large autonomy to articulate, connect, and organise the ecosystem towards a shared goal among its members. Other examples are companies who are creating digital marketplaces for schools and bring other stakeholders to the hub in order to generate B2B and B2C connections, such as Edusko in Nigeria and the Edupreneurs platform, developed with our partner Glowdom in Namibia.
Digitalisation can support such keystone organisations through digital tools and platforms where members of the ecosystem can use for peer learning, knowledge sharing, understanding the ecosystem needs and resources, and supporting work processes.
2. BUILDING RESILIENT ECOSYSTEM
Building an ecosystem is one thing. Making it sustainable and resilient, so that education stakeholders can rely on a robust system capable of enduring adversities, is another. Therefore, I’d like to mention some principles for building resilience in sustainable ecosystem services that can be optimized with digital solutions :
1. Maintaining diversity and redundancy among its members, by integrating all the different types of education players (schools, research centers, companies, ONGs) in a digital platform.
2. Managing connectivity, by offering functionalities in the platform through which stakeholders can network and interact with each other (e.g. searching mechanism, online surveys and chat, secure online payments, transaction tracking, marketing etc.)
3. Promoting polycentric governance, by connecting institutions capable of addressing problems swiftly by the right people.
3. SUPPORTING RESILIENT ECOSYSTEM BUILDING THROUGH DIGITALISATION
I’ve already mentioned a few ways how digital tools can support building resilient education ecosystems.Now, I just would like to emphasize 3 aspects of digitalisation that complement each other and bring a greater impact for building education ecosystems.
- Digitalisation makes education processes more efficient: when an information system is developed to digitize previous paper-based work processes, the education process itself should also be developed/re-engineered, so the digital solution is more than just automating an old process, but it brings a qualitative education management transformation, making it not only more efficient, but extending its previous impact.
- Next, because the education data is collected and processed automatically, it’s better organised according to the ecosystem needs, and it’s more easily accessible for decision making. The transparency allowed through digitalization supports accountability, and now stakeholders can be monitored and hold accountable for their actions.
Finally, the improved work efficiency and transparency become the foundation for building trust. And as soon as the stakeholders of an ecosystem trust each other and such trust remains over time through new generations of stakeholders, the magic happens. Check Finland.
Etzkowitz, H. & Leydesdorff, L. (2000). “The Dynamics of Innovation: From National Systems and ‘Mode 2’ to a Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations,” Research Policy (29:2), pp. 109–123. (https://doi.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(99)00055-4).
Lagstedt, A. & Leite, L.O. (2022). Edupreneurs: Networking and empowering education entrepreneurs towards a resilient edtech ecosystem in Southern Africa. Recommendation Paper. Project funded by the Southern African Innovation Support Program (SAIS 2).
Simonsen, S. H. (2015). Applying resilience thinking: Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems. Stockholm Resilience Centre.