For over a decade, the use of new technological applications in the education sector has been expanding in scale, innovation, and impact. Propelled by ever-growing gaps in access, affordability, and quality of education globally, those in the education sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, from teachers, governments, and now also EdTech entrepreneurs, are turning to digital solutions to address these challenges. Egypt is no exception.
Home to 1.31 per cent of the world’s population and with the largest education system in the MENA region, Egypt’s education supply and demand curve is far from achieving market equilibrium. Some 90 per cent of young Egyptians rely on the government for schooling. Yet the country’s growing population and ever-increasing enrolment rates far outweigh the system’s capacity to accommodate them. Egypt has double the world average in terms of students per class, and it is estimated that 2.4 million K-12 seats will be necessary by 2023 to satisfy the growing demand.
For those enrolling in state schools, the quality of instruction is often subpar because of limited resources and inadequate government funding. For the 10 per cent of the population able to afford a private education, sometimes exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses can fail to buy the higher-quality teaching people might expect. Quality is a challenge across primary, secondary, and tertiary education in Egypt, and the country’s higher-education institutions are graduating an unemployable workforce. By one estimate, it takes a university graduate seven years on average to find relevant employment.
What all this means is that Egypt’s supplemental learning market is huge. Egyptians rely heavily on private tutoring to compensate for an under-delivering school system. In fact, an estimated 69 per cent of state school students make use of some form of supplemental learning to complement their formal schooling.
Yet, even Egypt’s private-tutoring market has its challenges, as it is unaffordable for a sizable portion of the population. For those who can afford it, it constitutes an ever-larger portion of the household budget. Egypt’s private-tutoring market is also riddled with abusive pricing and competitive dynamics. The “star” tutors who have achieved celebrity status in the country have a monopoly on often-overcrowded classes and charge the highest prices. The rest of the tutors, considered less desirable, become uncompetitive.
In addition, the private-tutoring sector is also unregulated, and it often operates in Egypt’s informal, mostly untaxed, economy where the government is already shutting down tutoring centres across the board.
Enter EdTech, or the use of new technological applications in education. While this still falls short in terms of guaranteeing universal education for all Egyptians, it has the potential to meaningfully address issues of quality, affordability, and access in the country. Not only does it democratise access to education for tutors by giving more of them access to a larger student base, EdTech can also break the “star” tutors cycle by making more tutors competitive. Parents benefit from better prices and lower opportunity costs, and students learn from a larger and more diverse pool of tutors.
Known to improve performance, supplemental learning enhances learning outcomes. By filling in the gaps in the education offered in both state and private schools, students score better on tests and improve their chances of entering college or finding jobs by making use of supplemental learning. Online learning also has the potential to reduce the skills gap and make university graduates more competitive and relevant in today’s digital workforce. Nexford, a fully virtual university, now allows students to earn world-recognised and accredited degrees at an affordable monthly fee.
Without further government support, Egypt’s state-education sector will continue to suffer from quality and access inefficiencies. Supplemental learning will continue to be a necessary investment in a learner’s journey. As we look at the future of education and the role of schools, it becomes possible to imagine a future where supplemental learning is no longer simply complementary, but is an essential source of learning.
*The writer is managing director for North Africa and the Levant at Global Ventures, an international venture-capital firm investing across all technology sectors.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly