Re-Imagining Education for Young Africans

“It is time for African leaders to re-imagine an education that meets the needs of young people, sustains growth and promotes equity,” writes Reeta Roy

Africa is the world’s youngest continent. In recent years, it has become a destination for foreign investment and is a home to a movement of entrepreneurs.  Yet, the sobering reality is that current education systems are failing to keep up with the dynamism of the continent and its young people.  A young man in Dakar, who dropped out of university, told me, “Attending university was like going to a restaurant where the waiter served only one meal and said, ‘Eat this!’   The ‘meal’ failed to satisfy his need to learn.  His dream was to install computers in schools, to expose young minds to ideas beyond the classroom. But, when I met him, he was still struggling to make ends meet.

The problem begins early – at primary education. Across the continent, packed primary classrooms diminish the quality of instruction. Only 20 percent of students enter secondary school, less than 5 percent make it to university, and the enrolment rates for girls are significantly lower. Far too many students who graduate from secondary or tertiary education are left unemployed because the knowledge and skills they acquired do not match what employers seek. The result is that millions of young Africans – with an appetite for learning – are getting left behind.

There is an urgent need to close this gap. Fortunately, innovative models led by Africans are taking root, and are bringing education to the learner. They are developing future innovators, problem solvers, thinkers and entrepreneurs. These organizations are closing social inequities by serving young people who are poor, but bright and motivated to contribute to their communities – like the young man inDakar. They offer a learning experience that is relevant toAfrica’s growth trajectory. Here is what is most impressive: young people are more than students in these programs – they are stakeholders involved in design, implementation and evaluation, so that the education they receive directly impacts their future prospects.

Who are these organizations and what do their models look like? Ashesi University in Ghana and the African Leadership Academy in South Africa are exceptional examples of curricula embedded in entrepreneurship, ethics and experiential learning.  The results are clear: more than 90 percent of Ashesi students are employed within six months of graduation.ALAgraduates are sought by top universities worldwide.

In Ghana,  Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, CAMFED is demonstrating how educating hundreds of thousands of rural girls through secondary school and beyond creates a virtuous circle of alumni, who, in turn, educate, mentor and inspire the next generation of girls.  Education for Employment inNorth Africaworks with the private sector to prepare young people with life and employable skills, and has an 80 percent job placement rate.  InKenya, Samasource and Digital Data Divide deliver computer-based skills and jobs to young people in slums, refugee camps or urban centers.  These organizations are inspiring and showing us what is possible. The MasterCard Foundation is committed to ensuring that their bold visions and models thrive.

We know that young people will shape the destiny of Africa.  It is time for African leaders to re-imagine an education that meets the needs of young people, sustains growth and promotes equity. Leaders must focus on the quality of education and set targets for learning outcomes. New visions and benchmarks are imperative to enable African youth to work, communicate and contribute in the 21st century global village.

Credit : Reeta Roy, President / CEO of the Mastercard Foundation