The Global Future of Education at 5.5 Inches

Demography and mobile learning in Africa and Asia.

January 13, 2015

The future of higher education is in South Asia, East Asia, and Africa. And that future is mobile learning and competency based credentialing.

The population of Africa today is a bit over a 1.1 billion. The media age of Africans' is 18, and over 435 million Africans are less than 15 years old. By 2100 the African population could grow to 4 billion, during which time Africa will enjoy a demographic dividend of rapidly lowering mortality, declining fertility, longer life spans, and a growing and productive workforce. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa will follow the same trajectory of rising expectations, urbanization, and educational attainment that we have seen in East Asia.

Africa will never be able to build enough postsecondary institutions to keep up with the demand. By my count there are just over 1,000 colleges and universities in all of Africa. (Can somone give a better number?) African countries will not be able to follow a residential model  of building campuses and classrooms. Yes, many many campuses and classrooms will be built - but the pace of construction will badly lag the number of Africans demanding postsecondary schooling and credentialing. 

The solution will be found in mobile learning. By 2030 (if not sooner) there will be as many (big) mobile phones in Africa as there are people. Education for the masses, if not the growing African elite, will take place largely on mobile devices. 

The same story that I just told for Africa will happen (more quickly) in East and South Asia.  China will no doubt go mobile and competency based, but the real country to watch is India. China will get old before it gets rich, a demographic effect that will inhibit a leapfrogging from a campus based / seat-time to a mobile / competency higher ed model.

Younger and poorer India will make that postsecondary jump ahead of all others.

The campus educational model, and the laptop (keyboard / screen) learning model, will not disappear. It will grow, and grow quickly throughout the emerging world. However, this growth in traditional models of postsecondary education in the newly emerging economies will be swamped by the new mobile and competency based models just beginning to emerge.

If I were a business person I would be figuring out how to make long-term bets on the next model of education. I’d be developing a trusted education and technology brand in the fastest growing economies. Those countries with the youngest age structures and the smallest traditional postsecondary campus footprints. I’d be learning these markets, and positioning my company to serve a rising educational demand that will never be met by existing providers.  I’d move to India and I’d move to Africa.  

When it comes to the future of postsecondary education, demography (and mobile learning) is destiny.  



Back to Top