Africa is educating its young people for a job market that no longer exists, education reform is essential to unlock the continent’s potential, says Comfort Choolo.
Africa missed the first industrial revolution due to slavery, the second industrial revolution due to colonisation and had to spend the third struggling for liberation and independence. However, Africa is now well-positioned to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution happening now (which) is technology and innovation-driven. This will only be possible if we develop an education system that produces innovators.
What stands between birth and adulthood is, simply, education and this comes in all sorts of forms. The education we undergo is either formal, informal or non-formal but it can also be a blend of all of these all at once. The question that each one of us should seek to answer is what education we need?
Of the one billion more youth that will enter the job market in the next decade, only 40% are expected to be able to get jobs that currently exist. The global economy will need to create 600 million more jobs over the next 10 years – that’s five million jobs each month – simply to keep pace with the influx.
As a continent, Africa has developed an education system that prepares and chains employees to a narrow concept of what work is. It has prescribed what a working week is, what a productive month is and embedded a vision of success based on annual profits. What good have these prescriptions done Africa? The system has chained accountants behind excel spreadsheets, and teachers to physical classrooms for prescribed amounts of working time. I personally see no good because anyone who graduates in any field; be it engineering, medicine, accounting, finance or marketing will have to wait for a job opening that won’t come.
Africa, with the most youthful population in the world, has the biggest problem and the greatest potential to solve them. Because who is better placed to create these decent and sustainable jobs, if not young people? Nevertheless this is greatly dependent on the education these young people undergo because a great part of a person’s development is education. Currently Africa has an education system that teaches a person to work instead of producing goods and services.
During the recent Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, convened by the the United Nations and the African Union, I attended a round table plenary discussion on the sub theme “People.” I saw the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira talk strongly about the need to restructure the African education system. Education is the most powerful catalyst for transformation; hence in the African context it must be modelled in such a way so as to deliver the mandate of an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
To make African education fit for purpose, we must reassemble the traditional tripartite mission of education: teaching, research and community service. Aiming these functions at the urgent continental goals which aim at innovating and industrialising Africa. Secondly, African universities should create faculty based development activities towards a competitive, modern and industrialised society. It is now all about problem-solving for value-creation.
The immediate must-do for our committed institutions is adopting and nurturing a job-creator (JCR) mode mindset. For educational facilities to create a job-creator mindset it demands close interaction with their host communities – to identify economic opportunities. These should not only inform their curriculums but, most importantly, guide the trajectory of their innovation, research and development agenda. Professor Amon Murwira also pointed out that Zimbabwe’s 97% literacy rate means little if we must still import even the most basic of things. You cannot import in order to develop. We have to be able to make sure that we reduce the import bill by making sure that we use science, technology, engineering and mathematics on this continent to make use of our own local resources.
Africa requires an economic model that mitigates colonisation and the legacy of slavery which resulted in missing development milestones, and an import-oriented economy. We are used to a conveyor belt education system, whereby a person finishes and then finds a job. It is the wrong design. We don’t need an education system that provides workers for industry but one that prepares them to create and grow new industries.