Unemployment has long been a concern for governments across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, which suffers from the world’s highest rate of youth unemployment. The curriculum in many countries is outdated and fails to prepare students for a labour market that increasingly relies on digital and technical capabilities. According to the World Economic Forum, digitisation and technology integration will change 42 per cent of core employment skills by 2022, a shift that some education technology (edtech) startups are looking to address.
As communication, training, and learning moved primarily online during last year's lockdown, Mena’s edtech scene, like its e-commerce market, saw positive growth in both adoption and investment. The period opened the door for investors to back the region’s leading edtech startups such as Saudi Arabia-based Noon Academy and Lebanon-based Ostaz which was acquired by Global private school provider Inspired Education Group, and urged them to explore digital learning opportunities beyond the K-12 scope.
All of this has been fuelling Tunisia-based upskilling edtech GOMYCODE to expand across the Middle East and Africa to meet the dire need to address widespread unemployment among youth.
Launched in 2017, the startup has trained more than 10,000 users across eight countries including Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, Nigeria, and recently Senegal, offering intensive hybrid courses through 30 learning tracks with classes in full stack development, artificial intelligence, data science and other technology-centred fields. Last year, the company raised $850,000 in a pre-Series A round with participation from Wamda and has amassed over $4 million in estimated revenue.
“The countries and economies where we operate suffer from high rates of unemployment and a large youth population. Fifty per cent of university graduates in Africa won’t get jobs, which is an alarming number. On the other hand, there’s a massive skills gap happening. People need access to good opportunities, and education and upskilling both help,” says Yahya Bouhlel, founder and CEO of GOMYCODE.
According to the UN, and as Bouhlel points out, Africa’s youth population (under 18) is expected to increase by nearly 170 million, and the overwhelming slow adoption of technology across Africa’s industries’ leaves an estimated $130 billion investment opportunity in digitally upskilling Sub-Saharan Africa alone through 2030, a region that suffers a 13.8 per cent youth unemployment rate in total.
GOMYCODE’s hybrid learning model not only helps with “the completion rate” for online courses, according to Bouhlel, but also reinforces a need for academic instructors that could alleviate the striking unemployment rates among African youth. Freelance tutors make 80 per cent of the startup’s instructors, and the turnover of students whose physical attendance is divided to accommodate space makes the startup’s model both sustainable and scalable across countries.
“Not everyone has access to the internet or a good working or learning environment, so it’s not just a space that we are offering, it's a way to acquire learning. It can be a coworking space, an open space, or a university class, and when we expand to a country, each country has a network of people qualified to teach. In traditional learning centres, you can only train around 50 people in one space, with our model and with 30 chairs, we can train up to 1600 students per year,” says Bouhlel.
In addition to its B2C model, the startup offers corporate training and curriculum development for companies on a membership basis, and aids in hiring processes by “help[ing] employers connect with developers”.
But across the Mena region, the newly-emerging edtech space is riddled with a number of challenges including the heavily-regulated education industry, the strong competition from the region’s public organisations, and the need for localised content in various languages.
“There are a number of challenges in edtech, like the regulation, the lack of data, the cultural differences, the language barrier,” says Bouhlel, “In the Middle East, English is a main language for example, but in Africa, there are so many languages and a lot of countries use French. That’s one of the things we realised when we started, and so we began building localised content.”
The accelerated rate that regional investors tend to expect from local startups is also affecting the support that the Mena edtech market receives, having a typically slower traction model.
“It also takes much longer to scale an edtech in general because you have to wait longer to measure success rates. The iteration loop is much longer in the education business, which is common, but investors are interested in fast growth models and It’s these small things that could affect the whole growth trajectory a little bit for edtech startups,” explains Bouhlel.
Despite these challenges, GOMYCODE’s regional growth is a sign of Tunisia’s relatively affordable economic market, its abundance of young talent, as well as Africa’s general lack of competition among specialised edtech startups - which overall, present boundless potential for the edtech market.
“The environment in Tunisia is really interesting for entrepreneurs, there’s a huge population of developers, Tunisia is the second country in Africa in the number of developers - for every one million we have around 5000 developers, or 30,000 in tech in total, and that’s a lot of talent,” says Bouhlel. “Our success story with GOMYCODE is encouraging a lot of Tunisians to become entrepreneurs and that is really important. We will have more investors in the [edtech] space, and if anything, covid has shown how learning skills really matter.”