Africa cannot industrialise without a strong focus on education

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Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Thuletho Zwane

The consensus among world leaders is that for Africa to truly industrialise, African states should heavily invest in education.

President of World Bank Dr. Jim Yong Kim highlighted the importance of education in Africa. He was speaking at the  official Opening Ceremony of the African Development Bank’s  (AfDB) 2018  Annual Meetings in Busan, South Korea.

This year’s annual meetings are themed: Accelerating African Industrialisation.

South Korea moved from abject poverty in the 1960’s with its people living below the poverty line to become one of the richest countries in the world. This was in just one generation.

The country moved from an agriculture-based economy in the 1960’s to become the 11th largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product.

The reason behind South Korea’s success are often placed on the country’s industrialisation programme.

In his address, Kim said: “To industrialise, you must first educate. Korea invested heavily in education; earlier than advised; before anyone thought we should – and this was how we were able to leapfrog to wealth.”  

He said correlation between human capital investments and economic growth were always very strong and that at the core of South Korea’s industrial policy success was the focus on health and education.

Unlike the much popular neo-liberal discourse, South Korea did not conform to any pre-existing mode of development.

In his essay, Professor Do Hyun Han writes that during the period of industrialisation in the 1960s, the income gap between the urban and rural areas increased. Most rural areas suffered from seasonal starvation every year.

There was a great deal of rural migration to cities, which resulted in serious over-urbanization. Slums were quickly formed within major cities.

Korea faced many problems, including: bad roads, lack of adequate bridges, sanitation problems, lack of healthy drinking water supply systems, shortage of fuel materials from the denudation of mountains, lack of electrification, much like the majority of African states.

The Saemaul Undong model was adopted and integrated into South Korea. The model offered a comprehensive approach to tackle the problems mentioned above and, at the same time, it offered special education so that no villages were left out.  

“Education of female village leaders was an outstanding achievement for women empowerment in Korea,” writes Do Hyun Han.

African states are also beginning to pay focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, the implications of the industrial revolution on education have not yet been addressed by African governments.

The disconnect between the education system and the skills that will be required from the youth to fully participate in the industrial revolution runs deep.

South Africa’s  Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, said South Africa needed its higher education to produce responsive skills and to development research in order to fully benefit from the industrial revolution.

“We’re in the age of the pervasive influence of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence. I intend to create a multi-stakeholder task team to advise us on how we should take up opportunities of the 4th Industrial Revolution, “ said Pandor who was delivering the 2018 Budget Vote speech in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa.

In Nigeria, university graduates find it tough to enter the job market.

Nigeria’s Daily Trust reported that Minister of State for Education Professor Anthony Anwuka proposed that a one-year post-graduation training be offered in some specialized institutions in order to make Nigerian graduates employable.

He spoke at a retreat organized by the National Universities Commission [NUC] for members of Governing Councils of federal universities. The retreat, which took place in Abuja, had the theme Elements of Statutory Governance, Procurement and Financial Accounting in Nigerian Universities.

Anwuka said many university graduates were not good enough to be employed by industries.

This shows that governments in Africa are not bridging the gap between universities and industries.

President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, shared the same sentiments at the 2018 Annual Meetings Media Breakfast meeting on Tuesday.

“If you look at the universities today in Africa, many of them train students for jobs of the past, not the future. The labour market needs specific skills and these skills are simply getting produced,” said Adesina.

He said with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, focus has shifted towards digitization, material sciences, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, the Internet and robotics.  Adesina said new skills are needed, especially in sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences.

“About 70% of enrollments are in social science fields, with less than 2% being in engineering. More incentives will be needed to shift this concentration, to produce more graduates with such skills, which will be needed to turn them into entrepreneurs for the fourth industrial revolution,” said Adesina.

This is why the bank has funded the ICT Center of Excellence in Kigali – a joint initiative between the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology and the Carnegie Mellon University – to produce the next generation of computer experts for Africa.

The Bank has also supported the establishment of digital technology parks in Senegal and Cape Verde. Young entrepreneurs are being supported through business incubators to help them grow their businesses.

President of the World Bank Kim said countries that invested in education and health were the ones that did the best in early development. He said Africa needed a two-fold strategy: to accelerate Africa’s growth while meeting basic social needs.

Kim said Africa’s governments needed to engage the private sector to drive industrialisation and reduce public debts so that they could commit public funds to finance healthcare and education.

Kim added, “Africa will remain poor as long as health & education comes from generosity of donors & not a top development priority of governments. Things as crucial as Girls’ education, for instance, shouldn’t be a donor-led effort.”

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Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

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