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Monday, 20 December 2021

2021 in review: Egypt shifted towards more edtech and innovation

2021 in review Part 2 — Egypt shifted towards more edtech and innovation: After spending large swathes of 2020 and early 2021 either learning online, or using a blended model, Egypt’s K-12 and university students returned to in-person classroom learning in 2H2021. But interest in edtech didn’t wane — in fact, covid seemed to accelerate the demand for particular kinds of tech-based learning, like learning to code. Consequently, pre-covid education goals — like fostering innovation and teaching STEM skills — are, once again, high priorities for institutions and education leaders.

Edtech started the year on solid ground, thanks to 2020’s spike in users: Local startup eYouth, which certifies trainers to provide B2B and B2C training, saw its monthly number of enrolled trainees soar to 30k in 2020, up from 5k pre-covid. Online digital learning platform OTO Courses doubled its user base, number of sessions held and number of teachers in 2020. And Marj3, which helps students reach universities, secure scholarships and attend massive open online courses, was averaging over 1k new signups a day, as of March 2021. Marj3’s visitor numbers had grown throughout 2020, and founder Sami Al Ahmad expected the trend to continue: it was targeting 5 mn visitors a month up from 2.5 mn, he told Enterprise at the time. Marj3’s revenues increased 10x in 2020, he added.

As 2021 went on, more investment flowed into the sector: Educatly, an online platform that acts as a “Linkedin” for higher education, recently closed a USD 1 mn pre-seed funding round from Irish state development lender Enterprise Ireland, Falak Startups and a group of angel investors. This followed a series of investments from VC firm EdVentures. Career 180, an online platform that helps users to connect with career experts and provides counseling, secured USD 200k, after an initial USD 100k investment in 2019. OTO Courses netted a USD 400k investment from EdVentures. iSchool, which provides STEAM-focused educational technology for students 6-18 years old, also raised USD 160k from EdVentures. This all came after EdVentures’ first investment at the beginning of the year: a six-figure sum injected into book summary and education platform Akhdar.

Covid-19 drove the edtech focus for startups towards tutoring and away from management systems, EdVentures general manager Maged Harby told Enterprise in early 2021. We saw this trend continue throughout the year. CIRA and edtech startup Orcas announced in September their plans to co-develop an online social learning platform to provide after-hours support to students. And local providers offering coding courses saw demand for their services soar after covid appeared — particularly among children who had to stay home — they told Enterprise.

While among international schools, edtech — specifically, automation — was increasingly being seen as a key management tool. Educational process automation has become essential for private schools to manage basic admin, including admissions and registration, school officials tell Enterprise. Education management software increasingly integrates automation into more sophisticated activities, like data tracking and communication, saving time and money for both schools and parents, school leaders said.

Automation also became increasingly important in the learning process: Adaptive learning software — which adapts activities to individual learner needs, giving feedback and tailoring follow-up questions — has become a standard supplementary teaching aid for international schools, leaders told us. The platforms are interactive, and help learners work independently. Programs are often used for homework, or to help drill in fact-based information. Adaptive learning doesn’t come close to replacing teachers, but it’s now a vital tool to complement in-person teaching, leaders added.

And 2021 saw the first advanced machine learning platform to appear in Egypt continue its rapid growth: Century Tech, an advanced machine learning platform that builds personalized learning paths for learners, had already seen a 50% y-o-y increase in terms of lessons completed last academic year, as of June, its Head of International Charles Wood told Enterprise. Century works with three Cairo schools: Cairo English School (CES), the British International School of Cairo (BISC) and Kipling School, and is partnering with AIS to design software following the American curriculum. It goes beyond adaptive learning to actually learn from information given by the learner. Some feel it could even rival teachers in helping students remember and understand information.

Overall, we saw a push to include more innovation and diversity in education: From prioritizing technical and vocational education to investing in new technologies for academic education delivery, the government has been working to diversify its education systems — aligning well with recent recommendations from the World Bank on improving post-secondary education. New international branch campuses are bringing new degrees to the table, with some of the more unusual choices including a virtual reality B.Sc. and a motorsports engineering B.Eng. Boosting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education remains a priority, and Egypt has a host of private sector programs and competitions doing this in a way that’s fun, innovative and inclusive.

And to tailor learning experiences towards new skills acquisition and labor market needs: University entrepreneurship programs continued the trend of strong growth that began with AUC founding the first university-based startup incubator in 2013. At least 10 similar programs have since been launched, some as far afield as Alexandria and Assiut. Some universities now teach entrepreneurship as an academic discipline. The incubators help students launch startups, and nurture them into full-fledged businesses, usually offering seed funding, access to a lab or ideation space, technical and business mentorship, office space, marketing support, and connections to prospective investors. The best leverage their resources to foster entrepreneurial drive, connect students with industry mentors, and create a clear, in-program link with the job market, experts told us.

Private companies have been following these principles too, with executive education booming since the pandemic’s onset. Executive education — academic, post-graduate programs that enable executives, business leaders or professionals to enhance their business acumen and skill sets — has thrived in the last two years, according to sources. One executive education program used by Amoun Pharma saw productivity boosted by some 35%, the company’s HR director told us.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • More scrutiny for TVET providers: The parliament gave final approval to a law establishing a national authority for quality assurance and accreditation in technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
  • Flat6Labs is partnering with ESLSCA University to launch an innovation and entrepreneurship incubation program that will teach undergrad students over the course of eight months how to develop viable and sustainable businesses upon graduation, according to a press release (pdf).

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