Are You Ready to Upskill? The App Empowering Educators for a Brighter Future

What’s the Big News?

We’re beyond excited to introduce our newly launched Upskill App, a pioneering Android app exclusively tailored to address teacher professional development and training in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. We, Kim Westcott, the Product Manager, and Evan Hendon, the Chief Programme Officer, had the honour of leading the creative process, design, and roll-out of this innovative solution. As active participants in the educational landscape of Africa, we’re thrilled to take you on this journey with us, diving into the story behind Upskill, highlighting its unique features, discussing the challenges we overcame, reflecting on our personal insights, and sharing the valuable knowledge we’ve gained along the way.

Education holds the key to a thriving society, and skilled educators are the locksmiths to the minds of our future generation. However, many countries, especially in Africa, face a shortage of skilled educators. At Instill Education, we’re dedicated to tackling this systemic issue that plagues African education systems. Despite recent efforts in education reform across the continent, the African educator workforce system is in a critical state, inadequately preparing the future 40% of the global workforce. The statistics are alarming. 90% of children across the continent cannot read for comprehension in any language by Grade 4. Despite 60% of student outcomes being directly related to the quality of their teachers and school leaders, more than 2 million teachers across Africa have no formal qualification, 15 million new teachers are needed by 2030 to address shortages in teachers, and teacher attrition is on average between 5 – 20% annually across the continent. 

There has been a clarion call from governments across the African continent for increased professionalisation and ongoing continual professional development for teachers to improve teacher quality and student outcomes. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an upswing in EdTech in Africa accompanied by a number of articles about its challenges. From the decrease in investment in the sector, the relatively expensive cost of data in Africa compared to other parts of the world, challenges with language diversity, the discrepancy of investment in African EdTech versus the global market, as well as the lopsided development of EdTech tools supporting students at the expense of teachers. 

This article will not delve into those issues but instead will introduce the valuable lessons we’ve gleaned from launching Upskill, the African educator workforce development app. We’re keenly aware of the multitude of pressing issues at hand and are actively working towards tackling them. 

Our own ambitious journey of using technology to transform education would not have been possible without the support, guidance, and belief extended to us by our partners at the Mastercard Foundation, specifically the Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT, as well as the Mastercard Foundation country offices in Ghana and Kenya. Their partnership instilled in us the confidence and provided the opportunity to bring this dream to fruition. With their support, we’ve been able to leverage an EdTech platform to significantly increase access to high-quality, practical skills development programming and insights for African teachers. We are forever grateful to the remarkable team for their relentless support and belief in our vision! We firmly believe that our new Upskill app is a significant stride in the right direction.

What Makes Upskill Unique? 

Upskill stands out as the only teacher workforce development app specifically tailored for educators and education system managers on the African content. Throughout the development process, we prioritised user feedback, ensuring that educators were involved at every stage. This collaboration resulted in a user-friendly app that offers several benefits to educators:

  • Easy activation and onboarding: Users can log in with their email or mobile number, streamlining the initial setup process.
  • Enhanced security: The app incorporates 2-Factor Authentication to safeguard users’ accounts.
  • Comprehensive library of professional development modules: Upskill provides access to Instill’s extensive collection of modules and programs. A recommendation engine suggests personalised content based on individual needs and interests.
  • Modules aligned to national teaching standards: In our four main countries of operation, all of our module content is either endorsed by national teacher professional bodies or in the process of being endorsed so Upskill users can complete modules to maintain their teaching licence, earn continual professional development points, build their professional portfolio, and work towards career progression.
  • Interactive learning content: The app presents interactive learning materials optimised for mobile phones, allowing educators to engage with the content at their convenience.
  • Assessment capabilities: Users can test their knowledge and understanding through continuous assessment questions, facilitating self-assessment and growth.
  • Support and assistance: Live chat support and a ticketing system are available to address any queries or concerns that educators may have.
  • Offline access: Recognising the connectivity challenges faced by educators in remote areas, Upskill allows offline access, ensuring uninterrupted learning opportunities.

What Was Our Journey Like?

Embarking on the journey to create Upskill was akin to setting sail on uncharted waters with a passionate and dedicated crew spread across Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Nairobi. It was a dynamic journey marked with exhilarating highs and testing lows. We navigated our way through myriad challenges, such as the necessity to prioritise key features and focus on core capabilities to ensure a swift but thorough development process. 

One particular obstacle that tested our mettle was the migration of 55,000 users from the original web-based platform to the Upskill app. Imagine having to relocate a bustling metropolis to an avant-garde city without losing residents along the way. That’s what we had to try and achieve. We had to meticulously ensure the safe transition of valuable user data, like treasured possessions, while introducing our users to an enhanced, but markedly different experience.​

Another challenge that demanded our unwavering attention was customising Upskill to resonate with the diverse needs of Africa’s teachers and school leaders. Creating high-impact, holistic learning experiences for educators from various backgrounds—urban, peri-urban, or rural—was a priority that required a strategic shift in our operational approach. Amid the excitement of launching Upskill, our team swiftly transitioned into a mindset that prioritised user experience, platform stabilisation, and resolving any teething issues timeously. Through proactive collaboration and a relentless commitment to our users, we navigated these challenges, ensuring a seamless, enriching experience for educators.

What Have We Learned?

The journey of developing Upskill has taught us invaluable lessons that will shape our future projects. We learned the importance of involving educators early and often, understanding that the more feedback we gather from end users upfront, the greater the likelihood of success. Additionally, we realised the necessity of making strategic decisions early on, especially regarding technical architecture, to ensure scalability as the platform grows. Lastly, launching the app served as a reminder of our overarching purpose: to address the critical issue of workforce development in Africa. While the goal is challenging, we believe it can be achieved through the continuous improvement of our most viable product (MVP) and building upon its success.

What’s Next?

The launch of the Upskill app marks a significant milestone in our mission to empower educators and elevate the quality of education in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, and ultimately throughout the African continent. We’re grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the professional growth of teachers and school leaders to fast track African educator workforce development. Looking ahead, we envision a future where Upskill becomes the go-to platform for educators seeking to enhance their skills, advance their careers, and make a lasting impact on their students’ lives. We invite you to download the Upskill App from the Google Play Store and embark on a transformative learning journey. Your feedback is invaluable to us, as we strive to continually improve and meet the evolving needs of educators and education systems across the African continent. 

This is the first of many insights we will share from the rollout and scale up of the app. We hope this series serves as a conversation between us, Upskill users, and the broader education systems that the Upskill app was built for. We look forward to the conversation and learning from the education community to build the best educator workforce development platform the globe has ever seen. Let’s shape a brighter future through education.