Education: Enslaving or Empowering Africa?

Published on 30th May 2011

Productivity should be embraced at young age   Photo courtesy
The 1990 world conference on education for all in Jomtien, Thailand, called for the development of education systems that in addition to transmitting information, transmitted life skills that will enable citizens to adequately and positively respond to today’s global challenges.

Today’s global world is faced with challenges such as rapid population growth, rising levels of poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, natural disasters, movement of factors of production particularly labor and capital, unplanned urbanization, widening rich-poor gap and trade imbalance, among others. The education systems in African countries should thus be structured in a way that will make Africans creatively confront and overcome these challenges.

Education systems in Africa are still modeled around colonial education systems left behind many decades back. There is minimal effort to reform the colonial type of education in most African countries. African countries have forgotten that colonial education was meant to raise a constituency of Africans who would fulfill colonial aspirations that included exploiting Africa’s natural resources and creating a market for colonial products in Africa.

In most African countries, educational institutions emphasize on passing examinations and getting excellent certificates. Little focus is put on values and skills needed to solve real life problems. Education systems in Africa are thus failing to raise Africans who can spur optimum development in the continent and solve societal problems. The improvement in student enrollment does not match the number of teachers, books, laboratory equipment and classrooms, among other factors, hence compromising the quality of education.

If African countries are to achieve real transformation, sustainable growth and development, they have no other option but to restructure their education systems and ensure that the new education systems they adopt and implement will make their citizens become innovative and focused on overcoming today’s and future global challenges. Countries such as China, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Brazil and Japan had to restructure their education systems. Much emphasis was put on vocational training. They are now economic superpowers. African ought to learn from them so as to create a large pool of job creators as opposed to job seekers. African countries should heavily invest in establishing agricultural, mechanical, and technological vocational institutions. Today’s world is in need of more skilled manpower.

It is only in Africa where university students cram their taught notes in preparation for exams. Why should 21st century Africa invest in this? University education should be 90% research oriented. Every university graduate should be able to know the societal problems in his/her area of study and seek to solve them. Training students on how to formulate problems is very vital and this can only be achieved by encouraging and implementing research focused learning and training. Africa should stop perennially importing solutions. Population in African countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, for example, is increasing at fast rate. Unfortunately, there is no coordinated planning to creatively harness and provide for this population.

Training of manpower that will not be absorbed in the labor market and which will not help in overcoming societal problems and challenges is wastage of resources. African countries should rethink public expenditure on education and concentrate on establishing educational institutions and training of manpower according to the needs of their economies. If today’s need is to boost food production, then emphasis should be on training more manpower in the area of agriculture. If it is to create more job creators, then, emphasis should be on establishing more technological and vocational institutions

Entrepreneurs in China, India, Brazil and Malaysia are contributing significantly to transformation of their societies. However in Africa, education does not prepare students for this trend. Majority of the African students are simply looking forward to finish their studies and then look for jobs. Very few are looking forward to start their own initiatives. This is among the reason why unemployment is on the rise in Africa. We need education systems that impart in the spirit of entrepreneurship in our students. There is need to stimulate entrepreneurship spirit in all age groups in Africa.
If African countries are to attain real transformation, they must seriously rethink educational budget allocation areas and research.

By Hategeka Moses

Mr Hategeka is a Ugandan based independent governance researcher and public affairs analyst.

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