I had the opportunity of attending the recently held World Bank Group Youth Summit on “Rethinking Education for the New Millennium” in Washington, D.C. The 2-day summit brought together experts from different sectors around the world, as well as young emerging global leaders from over 90 countries, to deliberate on issues focusing on the future of education.
The 4 main sub themes of the summit centred on the following:
- Innovation and Technology in Education
- Skills for the New Economy
- Gender Equality in Education
- Education in Crisis Zones
While listening to the array of world class speakers giving insights on the latest thoughts, and developments in the field of education, innovation, and human capacity development, my thoughts went back to how we have fared so far in Africa. A.U Agenda 2063 is a road map for the Africa that we want to see in the next 50 years. It is a vision and an action plan which effectively covers key focus areas, in which education and youth development is a critical part.
Aspiration 6 – An Africa where Development is People-Driven, Unleashing the Potential of its Women and Youth.
- Youth unemployment will be eliminated, and Africa’s youth guaranteed full access to education, training, skills and technology, to health services, jobs and economic opportunities, recreational and cultural activities as well as to financial means to allow them to realize their full potential.
- Young African men and women will be the path breakers of the African knowledge society and will contribute significantly to innovation and entrepreneurship. The creativity, energy and innovation of African youth will be the driving force behind the continent’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation.
Paying close attention to the above, the underlying theme is on education, and human capacity development for young people in Africa, because the truth simply is that the very ones to drive the actualization of Agenda 2063 is the younger generation.
The question that however comes to mind is, are we truly on the journey to ensure that we pay adequate attention to developing the capacity, thought process, and expertise of young Africans through empowering them with access to relevant information, as well as quality, and affordable education, to fully make them drivers, and not just spectators in the development of our dear continent?
In a report released by the African Development Bank, written by Stephen Williams, titled “Africa’s Youth: The African Development Bank and the Demographic Dividend” it states that “Africa has the fastest growing, and most youthful population in the world. Over 40% are under the age of 15, and 20% are between the ages of 15 and 24. These statistics present a serious challenge. Can Africa seize the opportunities being presented, or do Africa’s youth constitute a ticking, demographic time-bomb?”
To drive this point home further, where do we see the future of Africa considering the increasing numbers of young people who have limited or no access to quality education, opportunities, development, and productivity? Is this truly an opportunity, and our strength, or just a keg of gunpowder sitting idly, ready to go off at the slightest disturbance?
I resisted the urge to end my last statement with “employment” but rather used productivity instead, as I strongly believe that the main purpose of education is not just in making an individual “employable” but to be knowledgeable, and ultimately productive. This productivity, and expertise is then transferred either to the workplace, entrepreneurship, or in other settings one may find his or herself.
Going back the conference, there was a session on “Skills for the New Economy”, where experts shared thoughts and insights on the future of the workplace, as well as effective skills to be acquired if an individual is to fully function effectively in the direction where the world is going, and yet again my thoughts went back to Africa.
Are we concentrating only on making sure that our young people cope with today’s challenges, without adequate focus on informing, educating, and preparing them ahead for future? Focusing only for today challenges, and not tomorrow simply means that by the time we arrive at “today”, the world has already left us behind, and moved far ahead. It thus ends up being a never-ending race of trying to play catch up each time.
In rethinking the future of education for Africa, I came up with 6 distinct questions we need to ask ourselves, and it simply follows the model of communication often used in information gathering, and problem solving.
What exactly is the purpose of our education model, and curriculum in Africa. What does it entail, and what skills does it transfer? Are we focusing only on raising people just to become workers, and seekers of employment, or are we raising, and empowering people to have an entrepreneurial and problem solving mindset, and thereby ultimately be at the forefront of innovation both locally, and globally?
Who are the key players, and stakeholders in the education system in our countries, as well as continent? Who shapes the direction of where education goes in Africa, and is this a fully inclusive process which involves everyone starting from the scholar, parents, society, educational institutions, and much more?
The concept of education which takes place only within the four walls of a classroom, simply does not fit the world we live in today, and is out of date. Where exactly does learning take place, and have we created more channels, and avenues through which this takes place?
We have different education systems across the continent, however, we need to ask ourselves if this model is appropriate, sustainable, and fits the modern realities of the world which we live in today. When does learning commence, and does continuous personal development, and education truly ever stop? And if we do agree that learning doesn’t stop, do we have systems in place to ensure that no one is truly left behind?
There must be a clear focus, need, reason, and agenda behind our education systems. Not knowing, understanding, or fully having a grasp of the “why” would only keep us at one spot of constantly reinventing the wheel, and ever shifting focus, intent, and priorities, without achieving measurable growth, and progress.
This is a very critical question to ask, as this will enable us look at what is on ground, and come up with fresh thinking, new ideas, and innovative ways of deploying educative content. Asking this question would also enable us critically look at how we leverage the use of technology for this purpose.
In concluding this article, the biggest issue remains equity in education. In moving forward, we need to ensure that there is fair, just, and equitable distribution of learning opportunities both within, and outside the four walls of the classroom to every young person across the continent. Only then can we truly say we are indeed on the journey of actualizing the Africa that we want.