The Digital Life of African Teachers - Top Ten Takeaways for Telecoms
Based on a survey of 300 teachers in Senegal, Jim Teicher, CyberSmart Africa argues that teachers should be a key customer segment for telecos. The majority of teachers pay for their own connectivity, own a smartphone and go online frequently.
The Digital Life of African Teachers - Top Ten Takeaways for Telecoms
I’m Jim Teicher, and I founded the e-publishing social enterprise CyberSmart Africa to
help advance learning on the African continent in sustainable and massively scalable
I believe that that all telecom players have the vision to connect everyone; and I also
believe that you all want to address the dire need to impact education. I’m going to
share some insights that can make it happen. Just last month we surveyed 300 new
Senegalese teachers. This is ground breaking research as I don’t think anyone has
ever before talked specifically to teachers about their digital life. I’m going to share
the top ten takeaways the research revealed.
Takeaway One: Teachers are very important customers. We learned that they are very
connected; and they also represent – by far – the largest professional workforce on
the African continent. There are more teachers on government payrolls than any
other profession. Teachers are also the ones that will facilitate technology use in
schools, and will help drive children and families to connect.
Embracing teachers also makes sustainable business sense. This chart shows
something very interesting. The type is small, so just look at the colors. Teachers in
low income countries (in red) actually take home a higher percentage of GDP per
capita than their peers in developed nations. For example, teachers in Nigeria earn
500 percent of per capital GDP, and and nearly 700 percent in Ethiopia. From a
business perspective alone, regularly salaried teachers are important customers.
Although they surely don’t make a lot of money, teachers do earn substantially more
than the average wage earner.
There is a dire ongoing need for teachers; and when you look at teachers as a market
for telecom, this market will grow, and grow, and grow. This chart shows the
estimated shortages of teachers in primary and secondary education in sub Saharan
Why does Africa need so many teachers? Because the child population in Africa is
booming – on a trajectory to have the largest child population of any continent,
topping 1 billion by 2055. The plain and simple fact is that we can not improve
education in Africa until we harness information and communications technologies.
Leadership on the part of the telecom industry is key to making this happen.
We surveyed 300 new Senegalese teachers. The majority are men in their late 20’s.
As you’ll see, these new teachers are pervasive users of telecom.
Takeaway Two: Our research showed that it’s worth the price to pay for the
convenience of connectivity when and when you want it. For example, it may not be
worth the effort to seek out free WIFI at a friend’s house or other location when it’s
available through a phone. Most don’t have fixed internet at home; and this might be
because it’s too expensive, or simply unavailable.
Takeaway Three: Teachers in Africa spend a greater percentage of their monthly
income on connectivity than in Asia and the Americas, and we need to figure out how
to make connectivity more even more affordable.
Takeaway Four: I would have never guessed that the percentage of new teachers
owning smartphones is so high; but it is. Our research also discovered that many new
teachers want a tablet as their next device, which is particularly interesting; and there
are a number of marketing implications. What about affordable smartphone/tablet
packages, for example?
When you compare the 89% of Senegalese teachers surveyed that own smartphones
to the data in this chart, it becomes totally clear that teachers can and should be your
ambassadors of connectivity. With the help of the telecom ecosystem (including
epublishers), their digital life can propel their nation forward to impact education in
positive ways. Collectively, teachers may have more capacity to do this than the
ministries of education they work for. (FYI Senegal GDP ranks 18 of 54 countries in
We also learned that teachers want new smartphones, and they use them much
more than their old feature phones.
It should come as no surprise that most new teachers know Android, and there are
more advanced Android “power users” than we found with Windows. Windows 7 is
an old operating system, and it’s is usually installed on old laptops and desktops. – so
it will go away in time. Personally, I think many of the old Windows 7 machines will be
replaced by Chromebooks which work particularly well with Android. This will also be
great because Chrome doesn’t catch viruses.
We found that iPhones do not play a significant role in the digital life of new
Takeaway Five: It should also be no surprise that we learned smartphones are the
preferred connectivity device.
Takeaway Six: …and that teachers go online a lot!
Takeaway Seven: They’re mostly communicating; and this isn’t just to save money
instead of making a call. It’s the value added by communicating in groups, including
voice messaging with others who have limited literacy skills.
Who are new teachers communicating with? Friends, family, and colleagues. Teachers
need to communicate a lot with each other – if they’re going to be late or absent, or
regarding schedules, activities, etc. They are also “searchers.” They seek out
information for their work and their personal life – and they share.
Takeaway Eight: Our research asked the new teachers about their competency with
certain apps. I think it’s reasonable to say that increased competency will yield more
connected teachers. The advanced, power users will lead the way and mentor their
colleagues. My advice to the telecom industry to seek them out! Give them telecom-
sponsored training along with connectivity incentives. Their students will benefit
from the knowledge and resources connected teachers can provide. How can African
schools participate in a globalized world if teachers draw their maps with chalk, while
the real maps are all online?
Takeaway Nine: It’s interesting to see that online commerce is minimal – but use of
mobile money is significant – largely for utility transactions. We need to do a better
job at merging the two because most Africans do not live in a credit economy, and
won’t for a long time. Ecommerce won’t take off until we merge the reality of a
creditless economy with the incredible convenience of shopping online.
Takeaway Ten: This brings us to takeaway #10, assuring the security of the internet.
I’m pleased that just over half of the new teachers know there are risks associated
with the Internet; but that’s not good enough, because 75% are online more than
once a day. They are just not comfortable enough online, and that’s got to change.
They need to protect not only themselves and their money, but also the content
that’s downloaded onto their computers. New teachers are not sufficiently convinced
that viruses can damage their files, and that’s not good.
This is a groundbreaking survey; but it must be put to use! The results can be a win-
win for everyone concerned. The fact is that telecom players are essential to make
education work in Africa.
Look! More than 50 million African children are out of school. This isn’t good for
anybody. It’s got to change.
Too many children in Africa are just not learning. Ninety percent of school age kids
are not minimally competent in reading and math – and it’s the new crop of teachers
who have the job of educating our children so they can get ahead.
The bottom line is that for change to happen, incentives of all parties must align.