Employing a century-old educational system won’t prepare Africa’s youth for the future

There is an increasing concern about the rate of unemployed and under employed youths in Africa. The continent has the largest “youth bulge” in the world, and the number of youth is expected to grow by 42.5 million between 2010 and 2020, according to the World Bank. From the definition of youth, over 40 percent are under the age of 15 and 20 percent are between the ages 15 and 24.

Statistics by the United Nations show that 56.9 percent the population in Niger are under 18, Uganda 55.0 percent, Chad 54.6 percent, Angola 54.3 percent, Mali 54.1 percent, Somalia 53.6 percent, Gambia 52.8 percent, Zambia 52.6 percent, Democratic Republic of Congo 52.6 percent, Burkina Faso 52.3 percent, Mozambique 52.1 percent, Malawi 52.0 percent, Tanzania 51.6 percent, Nigeria 50.4 percent, Senegal 50.2 percent, Cote d’Ivoire 49.3 percent, and Ethiopia 48.7 percent.

For years, basic school education on the continent has remained static, poorly invested in, and inadequate for present and future needs. Hence, youth nowadays find it difficult to get jobs as they are not equipped with the adequate skill set. This is primarily because most education systems today are based on models from over a century ago. And while this is a worldwide challenge, disjointed attempts to reform and modernize the education system in Africa have, in most cases, been insufficient in addressing the growing gap between conventional education systems, labour market and creative problem-solving abilities.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), roughly 10 to 12 million African youth enter the labor market every year. Yet, despite the increasing number of graduates leaving school each year, the number of available jobs has not been sufficient to absorb all the young people entering the labour market. According to the president of Coca-Cola central East and West Africa, Kelvin Balogun, amongst the 10-12 million graduates churned every year, about 5-6 million do not get jobs.

Technology is advancing the ways we interact and work. And this, coupled with globalization – which opens up opportunities where they hitherto didn’t exist – are significantly shifting business models in all sectors, increasing the pace we work and influencing the changes in job description and job creation – including new forms of work.

In a 2012 report titled Enterprising Futures, Len Schlesinger of the Harvard Business School describes a world of work where professions like banks, finance and large corporations no longer dominate. Much of the work graduates used to do is being digitised – this is true even in medicine and engineering, and certainly in banking and the law.

Technology can be harnessed in the academic system to enrich learning experiences, enhance knowledge of students and prepare them for the ever-changing world. Rather than adding another subject to the school curriculum as often advised in a country like Nigeria, we should rather begin to look at the whole purpose of education and ask whether our current systems are still fit for the purpose they’re designed for, because the standard of education experienced by students depend highly on the quality of workforce and the systems in place. And all this will contribute to reversing the growing challenge in Africa.

Finding fault in our education system because it fails to equip and educate our youths with enough knowledge for the future does not mean that the system should be designed solely to optimize graduates for job searches. While a nine to five job is good, the knowledge gotten in school can be put to even more creative use. From basic education, entrepreneurs are also born and entrepreneurship should not just be a general studies course taught in tertiary institutions. Skills should be taught relevant to problem solving, rather than chunking out pre-uploaded information.

The current system of education in Africa suppresses the ability of our imagination to run wild, thereby killing a lot of great inventions that should have sprung up. These outdated cultural norms and institutional inertia have created roadblocks for half of the world’s talent, preventing inventions that could possibly create more jobs for the youth. There is need to relate the relationship between mass communication and the pedagogy of actual communication in our academic system as digital skills and entrepreneurial nous are necessary for success.

Studies by the World Economic Forum suggest that 65% of children entering primary school today would be faced with jobs that their education would have failed to prepare them for. This exacerbates the skills gaps and unemployment problems in the future workforce. Roles for which a university eduation had been a preparation are thinning out, and few are able to get a decent job, let alone rely on having a “job for life” in a secure profession or corporation.

Preparing students in Africa for the future

There are different methods and approaches to be taken in other to prepare students for the future and we cannot assume a one size fits all in this case. Here are just a few suggested approaches that Africa can begin with.

As much as there is a need to restructure the education system, there is even a greater need to prepare the teachers and educators. The idea that humans are blank slates waiting to be filled have been ongoing for decades and most of these educators come from that era. In other to enhance learning experiences, workshops that engage in practical methods need to be inculcated into these educators. Also, school systems need to adopt project-based learning processes that can thrive and be accessed by all, especially in under-resourced schools.

Training curricula should be aligned with market demand for skills – both job-specific and generic, such as communication skills, interpersonal skills (guide others, resolve conflict and negotiate,advocate and influence, cooperate with others) problem-solving and project management. Although African schools might face the challenge of keeping these curricula dynamic and responsive to evolving business needs. There is also need to adopt alternative learning routes, allowing for experimentation with new techniques.

In other to have a sense of what is required of them in the labour force, students should experience the world of work early in their scholarhip, through internships and ongoing career coaching as these would help them see a variety of career options and the skills required in that career path. We cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. Most tertiary institutions already offer a stipulated time for industrial trainings (depending on the course of study) but there is need to tailor this kind of learning right from an early age, and not only after they have been admitted to the university.