Considering the fact that Africa is now actively partaking in the promising race towards sustainable development and economic prosperity, the African market is currently witnessing an innovative turn of events which requires a compatible workforce, none other than its younger generation.
Technological advancements have completely revolutionised the job market across the globe; burying some jobs and at the same time creating new and better ones in order to meet up with the demand for diverse and very complex goods and services. The strong winds of technology and innovation are blowing through the African plains at a very fast rate, causing the number of digital Startups across the continent to skyrocket over the past few years. This has resulted to an excessive need for professionals who can easily integrate and work within a highly digitalized and fast-track job market. This leaves one with a pertinent question: How can African students be equipped with the right skills for the job market?
First and foremost, education is central to finding a concrete and effective solution to Africa’s prevalent problem of unskilled and limited labour. For several years, Africa has suffered from a severely handicapped and unproductive educational system, due to a number of reasons ranging from financial (corruption), political (civil wars) to social problems (gender inequality). Access to quality education is still a huge concern in most regions of the continent. The general and most common problems are limited numbers of schools for the fast growing youthful population; and the issue of high educational costs which cannot be met by a significantly large number of pupils and students hailing from poor backgrounds. Consequently, some of them are forced to drop out of school meanwhile, others end up in mismanaged educational institutions plagued by poorly trained educators with little or no teaching/learning facilities. Though the youth literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa rose to 70% in 2011, it is still the lowest in comparison to other regions. 48 million youths (ages 15-24) are illiterate*, 22% of primary aged children are not in school . That makes 30 million primary aged children who are not in school. This explains why skill and knowledge development of any kind remains beyond reach in several communities across Africa, leaving the job market ever wanting for creative minds. According to a ICAI Report on DFID’s Education Programme in three East African countries in 2012, the youth literacy rate in Ethiopia stood at 50% meanwhile Tanzania and Rwanda recorded youth literacy rates of 77% and 78% respectively. Nonetheless, “The challenge of education in Africa for development has never loomed as large as it does today.”– UNESCO.
What can be done?
In order to address this problem, African countries must identify areas requiring further development within the educational system; redefine and invest in these areas in a manner that would harness current and future opportunities; and fulfil the full potential of Africa’s continues investments in educating the population at all levels. Keys areas which need particular attention would include knowledge production, technical support, capacity building and information transmission. In addition, governmental or intergovernmental institutions, public agencies, non-governmental organizations and private sector entities would have to maintain education among their priorities and look out for stronger collaborations in order to realise this task.
Rwanda for instance, considers education a critical investment for the country’s future growth and development. The ministry of education leads the Education Sector Working Group in Rwanda, which includes development partners and representatives from civil society organizations. Through the Global Partnership for Education Programme in Rwanda, the overall student drop-out rate has decreased from 10.3% in 2014 to 5.7% in 2015; the repetition rate dropped from 20.7% in 2014 to 18.4%; 3260 new teachers have been recruited at the primary and secondary levels; 1,404 classrooms have been constructed for basic education (pre-primary, primary and secondary); a new competency-based curriculum is being implemented since 2015, with textbooks being purchased and more than 20,000 teachers are sensitized to the new curriculum. The number of trainees enrolled in Technical and Vocational Education and Training increased from 52,386 students in 2010 to 94,373 in 2015. There is an overall increased share of the national budget allocated to the education sector in Rwanda and it is projected to increase from 17% in 2012/13 to 22% in 2017/18.
All students need to be prepared to enter the job market, and this should begin at a very early stage, long before graduation. Free and quality education especially basic education for all, irrespective of the gender or religion or race, should therefore be guaranteed. More money should be spent on pre-schooling, since the reasoning abilities and social skills that children learn in their first few years is said to define much of their future potential. In the course of their studies communication skills, interpretation skills, interpersonal skills, decision making skills and other soft skills such as conflict resolution, team work, public speaking etc. should be identified and fine-tuned through workshops and other engaging educational programmes. Technology itself will help (computers, Internet, online courses etc.) and why not video games that simulate these skills needed for work. Free teaching, writing and reading materials for teachers, pupils and students should be made readily available to facilitate the teaching and learning process in schools, particularly in the hard to reach rural areas which tend to be forgotten.
Furthermore, vocational and technical training centres likewise higher educational institutions need to be extensively upgraded: the provision of modern training facilities with modern equipment; designing and adopting innovative educational curricula which will foster creativity, critical thinking and diversity among the students. Linking students to their future workplace by means of internships and/or frequent excursions gives them a chance to have a feel of the job market. Pre-knowledge on possible challenges and corresponding solutions; the intercultural nature of the job market and the existing digital interconnectedness within the job market, mentally prepares the students and greatly enables the transition process. The tech company Andela co-founded by the Nigerian tech entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, builds a network of computer programmers in Africa by recruiting and training individuals to be software developers. Trainees, in turn, make a four-year commitment and are placed with a technology company where they receive ongoing training and professional development.
Fortunately, the parents equally have a very important role to play in preparing their children for a professional life. Some parents tend to dictate the educational and career path of their children regardless of their interest or lack of interest in the suggested career. Such parents need to learn how to give their children the chance to choose the career they are passionate about. This passion keeps them focused and disciplined throughout their studies thereby, enabling them to acquire the right set of skills and knowledge needed to pursue a passionate career later in life. This guarantees efficiency and effectiveness in their respective professions. A standard and conducive study plan for the children back at home, contributes immensely towards their educational success and future career prowess. Adult literacy programs for illiterate parents will go a long way to assist this process so that these parents can actively help their children back at home.
The fast growing African economy could be likened to a giant machine which is running on a low capacity engine. Educating the youths and furnishing them with the right set of skills is in other words, making available a high capacity engine which can keep the African economic machine running. “We need to define a framework for learning in the 21st century that promotes the development of inclusive lifelong learning systems.”– UNESCO
*UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015. June 2013.
**United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. MDG 2014 Report: Assessing Progress in Africa Towards the Millennium Development Goals.