⇓ More from ICTworks

8 Challenges Teaching Computer Science Education in 5 African Countries

By Guest Writer on June 8, 2023

african computer science

Despite efforts by African governments and universities to promote Computer Science Education (CSE), there remain challenges that affect CSE in African countries. These include limitations in student background, minimal resources and funding limitations, inadequate infrastructure, poor pedagogical approaches, gender imbalance, and a shortage of qualified instructors.

There are several challenges and opportunities for CSE in Africa. Many of these are cross-cutting across multiple countries, while some of them are unique to some of the countries in this study. In Computer Science Education in Selected Countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, we summarise these challenges and also discuss opportunities to improve CSE in Africa.

Challenge One: Computer Science Knowledge Gap

The first challenge in Computer Science Education in Africa is the CS knowledge gaps in the areas of mathematics, programming, logic, and problem solving skills of our secondary school leavers (or  matriculants). Students entering first year at universities have hugely divergent skill levels, mostly dependent on what type of secondary school the student attended.

For example, the schooling system in South Africa categorises three types of secondary school, namely private schools (which are typically very expensive but provide excellent education), model-C schools (which are well run government schools, mostly with functioning parent governing bodies and good pass rates in the final matriculation examinations), and finally, the largest category, government schools that do not have functioning governing bodies, and with the lowest average pass rates for the matriculation exit examinations.

This difference in secondary schools attended by the students provides a critical challenge in the school system that cascades to CSE at university level. In some of the countries, like Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa, ICT and computer studies are offered as a subject at secondary schools but these are oriented towards the use of computer (i.e. ICT literacy) and software applications and less on the foundational concepts of CS. Most of the students admitted to a CS degree programme learn programming and computational aspects for the first time at the university, which impacts on their learning curve across the CS content.

Moreover, a number of CS undergraduate students in universities are unprepared for their study programme as they lack knowledge of CSe as a discipline and also have had no prior counselling and guidance in choosing to undertake the programme. It is not uncommon for CS to be misunderstood as being the same as “computer studies” or “computer literacy”.

As a result, most part of their first and second year is spent in trying to reorient and understand the programme and/or area of study instead of spending it on grasping the basic concepts and logic that would need to be applied in their higher years of study. This eventually affects their level of passion for the programme and additionally, the quality of output of graduates from the programme.

Challenge Two: Insufficient Exposure to Mathematics.

STEM subjects in African schools have been the worst affected by the various disruptions in the past few years, like natural disasters and COVID-19 35. However, the result is that the mathematical skills required for university courses in the Science and Engineering faculties are not developed prior to entering university.

Due to the fact that most students do not get sufficient counselling and guidance on choosing their study programme, students may underestimate the prior mathematics background required for the CS programme. As a result, students who meet the minimum requirement to enter the university but have Mathematics challenges, end up in the CS programme and struggle to go through it and this eventually affects the quality of output of graduates from the CS programme.

For example in South Africa, many secondary school learners are being encouraged to take Maths Literacy rather than normal Mathematics in government schools, as this is an easier subject in terms of content and one for which teachers might be more readily available.

This challenge is even bigger for private and newer universities whose programmes have existed for a shorter time, and have to compete with the traditional public universities who have been in existence much longer. This is seen in Ghana and Uganda, where the traditional public universities with government funding, are able to set up departmental admission requirements (usually higher than the minimum admission requirements) and as a result, most often would get students with good passes in Mathematics.

However for the other private universities, in order for them to meet their financial needs, they admit based on the minimum admission requirements to get sufficient student numbers and this impacts the quality of the CS graduates. Jonathan Jansen (a former Vice-Chancellor of the UFS) warned in 2018 that the standard of South Africa’s secondary school exit exams are dropping and university entrance requirements are being lowered, especially in the case of mathematical skills

Challenge Three: Availability of Teaching Staff.

Many African universities are faced with the challenge of finding suitably qualified CS teaching staff. The number of staff in the CS discipline with PhD degrees is limited. Moreover, retaining qualified CS teaching staff (especially young staff members) is also a challenge in some countries as the staff are easily ‘poached’ to take up employment positions in private companies offering higher salaries than in the education sector.

This attrition also means that CS researchers are not conducting IT research maximally, leading to slower IT interventions expected to bring about positive economic and social outcomes for local contexts. Competing with the high salaries offered by ICT companies is very difficult for most tertiary education institutions.

Challenge Four: Gender Imbalance.

Despite an increased number of computer scientists in African institutions, there is still gender imbalance in CS in both the student population and the teaching staff across most African universities. Gender imbalance does not only occur in CS programs but also cuts across the STEM fields. A study carried out by ICT consultants in Uganda showed that Makerere University, and other African universities had a ratio of male to female students in the ICT programs of 3:1.

Challenge Five: Student Field Attachment.

Due to limited growth of the CS industrial sector in some African countries, there is usually a challenge in student field attachment activities or industry linkage. It is expected that second-year CS students take up field placements at different CS focused organisations and companies during their recess term. During this internship or field attachment activities, students are equipped with practical skills in CS such as programming, databases, software engineering, artificial intelligence and general hardware maintenance.

This field attachment has shown that it improves student employability and entrepreneurship skills. The challenge however, is that quite often, there is a limited number of organisations with suitable internships for CS students, as many tend to be oriented towards general ICT management. The emerging startups that are oriented towards the CS fields tend to have limited capacity to take on interns.

Challenge Six: Lack of Funding.

Another obstacle for CSE is limited funding opportunities for undergraduate students. For example in South Africa, the national government has in place a National Student Funding Assistance Scheme (NSFAS) to support students from families below the poverty line. However, but there is a “missing middle” group of students, who do not qualify for NSFAS funding, and whose families cannot afford the university fees.

Besides the limitations on funding for students, universities are also experiencing challenges related to limited resources such as hardware, software, ICT teaching resources for the practical programming and CS courses, and administration support. 1046

Challenge Seven: Teaching Methodologies.

Usually the challenge of inadequate Mathematical skills should be surmountable as most CS programmes have introductory Mathematics courses such as linear algebra, calculus, discrete courses. Hence, the pedagogical approach is a challenge. Some lecturers would want to go the traditional way of mathematics, probability and statistics.

However the pedagogical approach to teaching seems to still make it challenging for the students that are already challenged by the subject. The same applies to computer programming courses (which most first year students would not have encountered prior to enrolling at the university) and other ancillary CS degree teaching using the white/blackboard approach instead of practicing with students in the labs especially for practical courses.

The issue of pedagogy is further complicated by the lack of sufficient CS degree programme lecturers as mentioned previously.

Challenge Eight: Problem-solving Skills.

A prevailing challenge is that graduates struggle with abstract problem-solving capabilities. Computer scientists should do more than code because they need to be able to improve or design systems and communicate their solutions – a skill only possible through life-long learning. Most topics are covered only as introductory courses, meaning some students can hardly appreciate the domain-specific nature of their classes. This issue remains difficult to address because while students can master the concepts introduced, many struggle to apply them concretely or consider them from multiple viewpoints.

A lightly edited section from Computer Science Education in Selected Countries from Sub-Saharan Africa by Engineer Bainomugisha, Karen Bradshaw, Martin Mabeifam Ujakpa, Joyce Nakatumba-Nabende, Lawrence Nderu, Neema Mduma, Patrick Kihoza, and Annette Irungu

Filed Under: Education
More About: , , , , , ,

Written by
This Guest Post is an ICTworks community knowledge-sharing effort. We actively solicit original content and search for and re-publish quality ICT-related posts we find online. Please suggest a post (even your own) to add to our collective insight.
Stay Current with ICTworksGet Regular Updates via Email

One Comment to “8 Challenges Teaching Computer Science Education in 5 African Countries”

  1. FRIDA KORIR says:

    Career is lifelong and complex. When i was guiding some students on career choice for KUCCPS placement, I realized that some of them had no idea of what to pursue. .