Giving Africans the digital skills they need for the future

Sixty per cent of the African population is under the age of 25 and many millions of people struggle daily with education and employment opportunities. Despite the growing demand for quality institutions of learning and higher education, there are insufficient players.

In addition, there is limited opportunity for bursary and micro-financing to allow students to access the opportunities that do exist. African youth remain a vulnerable population, especially in light of the technological innovations and educational opportunities happening globally. There is a desperate need to educate people not only for current jobs but also for future opportunities and demands.

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

Reducing barriers to entry

In order to meet these human capital challenges, I started HyperionDev, a United Kingdom and South African-based start-up, with the aim of building the largest online coding bootcamp in Africa and scaling it internationally to 40 countries.

The company is now the largest of its kind in South Africa. It offers online, part-time training under the supervision of specialised mentor experts in software engineering, full stack web development, data science and mobile development as well as a number of short courses in the programming field.

The motivation for setting it up stemmed directly from witnessing the depressing drop-out rates in South African universities in computer science degrees. With an average failure rate of 88%, I couldn’t see South Africa meeting its tech demands and I wanted to change that. My initial idea was a simple one: an online course where people with limited internet access, a reality in South Africa, could still become programmers.

To deal with uniquely African conditions, I developed a simple online course in Python to teach students the basics of artificial intelligence with small files – rather than the large videos offered by many massive open online courses (MOOCs).

After studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, I went back to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa during a holiday and spoke to students in my previous classes, urging them to sign up for the course. Over 100 signed up in the first week.

The course then spread organically to many other South African universities in Johannesburg, Cape Town, etc. Eventually we had students from every tertiary institution in South Africa. We now have students from eight African countries and this is growing every day.

Open education is about the development of non-traditional learning methods that reduce barriers to entry. However, although many platforms claim to reduce these barriers, no existing platform seeks to serve the unique limitations of millions of South Africans, many of whom would benefit the most from the principles of open education. HyperionDev aims to fill this large gap in knowledge transfer using a scalable model.

Embracing a more ambitious vision

More recently we have tried to take another step forward in closing the tech skills gap by working on another EdTech start-up, CoGrammar. We have set our sights on tackling a more ambitious vision – setting the global standards for code review.

CoGrammar enables education brands around the world to integrate on-demand mentorship and code review into their coding education programmes at an affordable cost, making effective software development education scalable.

In essence, the company has innovated a new career path – ‘copywriter for code’. CoGrammar sources, trains and seamlessly integrates expert code reviewers into coding bootcamp education programmes globally. Human review of code is essential to ensure aspiring developers understand how to write code that isn’t just correct, but is fluent and at an industry quality level.

Worldwide providers of coding education can review their students’ work via the CoGrammar Application Programming Interface which integrates artificial intelligence and a team of expert code reviewers employed by the company to review code at rapid speeds.

Bridging the tech skills gap

The education market has been growing since 2013 at an annual rate of 90%. We feel that CoGrammar is uniquely positioned to become a global engine for coding education and code review, supporting millions of aspiring developers in bridging the tech skills gap.

When it comes to technology education, I believe African start-ups have the edge in understanding the constraints and thinking of innovative methods of working around them. High demand for easy-access education in tech-allied fields provides the stimulus for African entrepreneurs, who need to make sure their solutions are cost-effective and can be used in a variety of settings, including low bandwidth areas.

The drive for access creates momentum, which leads to digital innovation and ultimately increased competitiveness and high growth in this sector.

Riaz Moola is founder and CEO of CoGrammar, South Africa.