UNECA – How communication services commitments in the AfCFTA can promote digitally-enabled education services across Africa

International Economics Consulting Ltd (IEC) drafted a report to answer how communication services commitments in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can promote digitally-enabled education services across Africa. The objective of this report was to analyse how the commitments on telecommunication and education services within the AfCFTA can further enable the expansion of digitally-enabled education services within Africa. The report explores the status of telecommunications and education industries in Africa, also describing the different commitments made at the WTO and selected regional economic communities (REC), thereby highlighting the link between telecommunications and digitally-enabled education services.

Since the 2000s, the world, and Africa in particular, has experienced a quantum leap in communications, with mobile cellular communications and the Internet increasingly being available to a greater number of citizens. However, the majority of the African population still lack Internet access, with only 28.6% of the population using the internet, which represents a significantly lower level than other regions across the world. The high price of service was one of the key bottlenecks to the expansion of the internet across the continent.

Education has a massive role in driving sustainable economic growth. The region is experiencing a new wave of economic development characterised by expanded economic diversification and urbanisation, technological advances, and closer regional economic integration. However, more must be done at the continental level to ensure that everyone has access to basic education. Access to secondary and tertiary education remains one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) main problems, along with the overall level of implementation of eLearning solutions being low.

Overall, most of Africa’s WTO Members have not made commitments liberalizing their communications and education sectors.  At the regional level, the approach adopted to tackle telecommunications has been varied, with no homogenous approach across the RECs.

Driving digitally-enabled education services will require four fundamental pillars: Access, Affordability, Ability and Appetite. Improved technologies, better broadband and more stable internet will enable millions of users worldwide to access online education in the future. Moreover, ensuring minimum standards of quality and equitable access are among the main regulatory issues faced by developing countries. Other policy interventions include ensuring access and affordability of ICT, opening trade, and fostering investment practices in the telecommunications sectors, skills development, amongst others.

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