With Africa facing a ‘youth bulge’ as an increasing number of young people come into the market looking for work, what can be done to make education more relevant to the skills needed for employment? Tom Collins talks to some education providers to find the answer.
Africa’s booming population – 7% of the world’s population in 1960 but rising to 23% in 2050 – presents problem for the educational facilities and institutions that are already struggling to equip young Africans with the skills needed to enter the job market.
Though most countries boast excellent private institutions, and places like South Africa, Egypt and Kenya have outstanding higher education facilities, the pockets of success are few and far between and they mostly cater for students who can afford the usually steep fees.
Too often educational facilities are underfunded, understaffed and unable to teach students the skills needed to confidently enter the job market.
According to the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) annual African Economic Outlook, there is a 54% mismatch between the skills of job seekers and employers’ requirements in the youth job market of 36 African countries.
It adds: “African students have lower average test scores than students in other world regions. Against global harmonised test scores ranging from 300 to 625, the average African student scored only 374 in 2017.
Some countries, however, performed well relative to their income. Kenya and eSwatini, with scores of 455 and 440, respectively, are above the world average of 431 for upper-middle income countries.”
Lydie Hakizimana, CEO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, calls the lack of skills and the rapidly expanding population a “ticking time bomb” and concludes that “we need to focus on job creation.”
Indeed, this brings up the second obstacle to a healthy job market: there are not enough employers to accommodate many highly educated graduates in the market.
This leaves huge numbers of workers functioning well below their capacity in countries like Egypt and Sudan where the private sector does not match the educational output, and many students decide to find employment elsewhere in the world, exacerbating what is known as the ‘African brain drain’.
Buckling under the weight of a strict Covid-19 lockdown, South Africa had the highest unemployment rate in its history in November at 30.8% as the government struggles to create jobs.
Both the government and the private sector must work to expand the formal sector and provide secure jobs to the thousands of Africans who are out of work.
Bridging the gap
Africa faces myriad challenges to ensure its students are well educated and there are enough jobs in the market.
From the type of education, to the resources available to cultural issues of attending and leaving school too early – there are a wide range of hurdles that must be overcome.
Ravi Shankar, CEO of Accelerated, an EdTech working in Ethiopia and East Africa, says that it is not just a question of building more schools.
“Even with teachers who have had their jobs for a couple of years, we still find that there is a lot to improve in the pedagogy aspects of teaching rather than the subject matter,” he tells New African.
“It is the biggest problem area. Teachers might be confident in their subject, but they are not the best people to communicate that or enable knowledge transfer to a group of students.”
The ‘chalk and talk’ approach, which uses repetition in writing and speech to facilitate learning, does not impact positively on learning outcomes, he says.
Accelerated has been working to independently improve the teaching methods of over 2,000 teachers in Ethiopia by encouraging the teachers to become more dynamic and interactive. Schools can pay for their teachers to take the training courses for as little as $60 per year.
The institutions often use the extra spend to market the school to potential students and as a way to retain teachers, who can present accreditation from Accelerated’s training programmes to boost their CVs.
“Educations is not a very dynamic sector in Ethiopia unfortunately. It has not seen a lot of modernisation. The government has spent 26% of their budget in education but the results are yet to be seen.
“For a long time, the government has focused on expanding access to schools and investing in hardware: actually building schools. But the next priority has to be trying to focus on the type of education,” says Shankar.
Ethiopia’s government is the largest employer in the market, and the lack of a dynamic private sector means that many of those who are well educated may not be able to find employment even if education improves. In other countries like India, outsourcing can be a viable way to earn a better income than market rate by working on global projects remotely.
However, many of Ethiopia’s graduates are not proficient in English and unlike other countries this prevents them from consulting as cheap labour for global companies, Shankar says.
Along with helping teachers to learn the skills they need to be effective, another way to address the problem is to look at the skills employers are struggling to find when they search the local job market and to boost these skills through independent learning.
Rwanda-based EdTech BAG Innovation has helped over 8,000 students find jobs through a learning platform that teaches them the critical skills in demand by employers.
Gabriel Ekman, CEO of BAG Innovation, tells New African that many businesses must spend anywhere from six months to a year training employees before they can effectively carry out their jobs.
With the extra skills acquired on Ekman’s learning platform, the amount of time can be cut to just three months.
“BAG assisted me to better understand the needs of employers and gain experience in the field of my studies,” says Dinah Gakuba, a BAG Innovation student
“I got a broader understanding of on-demand skills and was able to adapt well to the market before graduation. During the interview with my employer I was able to refer to the different submissions on my BAG Profile and my different solutions to the recruiter which helped me get my current job,” he says.
Having successfully modelled the product in Rwanda, Ekman is hoping to expand BAG Innovation to the wider region, adding to the number of startups that are confronting educational challenges in Africa.