African leaders and investment in education
It is quite gratifying to hear that African leaders who are not known to be passionate about development issues are suddenly talking about serious investment in education, the only known weapon of competitiveness in the new world.
The new interest in education manifested in Ghana when stakeholders in African education system specifically identified lack of political will to invest in education as the bane of development in the continent. The stakeholders, therefore, challenged African leaders to go beyond rhetoric and invest in youth development, inclusive and equitable education, good governance and accountability in education management.
That was the consensus at the opening of the 14th General Conference and the golden jubilee of the Association of African Universities (AAU) in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. Fittingly, the host President, Nana Akufo Addo, challenged Africa to set her own priorities on education and locate where to invest its funds in the sector. President Addo also challenged government of all African countries to muster the political will to make Africa work in this connection.”Africa must set her own priorities on any of its education level and locate where to invest its funds in the sector. Africa must never rely on the World Bank or any other development partners on where to focus between the basic and higher education…” he noted.
This, of course, is yet another talk that should be walked by African leaders. They should indeed recognise their critical role in developing and promoting knowledge societies fueled by skilled human capital. This is imperative as they recognise the expediency of emphasising youth development, good governance and accountability in the management of education as a key component of development.
As the stakeholders noted, despite rising numbers of universities across the continent, the supply is yet to meet the manpower demand of the second largest continent in the world. Besides, Africa is yet to excel in research, science and technology within the context of higher education sub-sector.
What is more, African leaders and indeed policy makers in curriculum development are yet to imbibe the imperatives of competitive education weapons called STEM Education as leaders in the developed economies have since adopted. STEM Education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work and the global enterprise realistic. Thus enabling the development of STEM literacy will come with it the ability to compete in the new economy.
When STEM was first introduced, for instance in the United States, as “the next big thing” the thoughts behind it basically centred on two issues. First, there was (and still is) a growing concern that the United States was not preparing a sufficient number of students, teachers and practitioners in the STEM fields. Second, the policymakers felt that their industries needed (and still need) more workers in these (STEM-centred) fields because of an ageing workforce and an increasingly innovative world market. STEM is constantly divided, in the circumstances, into two categories: STEM education and STEM workforce, and rarely are the two discussed in conjunction.
This paradigm shift in the STEM education foundation is where Africa has been lagging behind. This is an age when teachers and students think about technology, envision computers, touchscreens, and digital data collection tools – for development and indeed country competiveness that quality in education gives. In this regard, it is the responsibility of governments in Africa to borrow a leaf and work on how to invest in quality teaching of sciences and mathematics. This is not to discount the humanities that have their own uses, in the circumstances. But the lesson here is that African leaders should note that investing in mathematical sciences is not a matter of rhetoric, it is capital-intensive and should be a matter of priority if Africans are to be masters of their destiny. In the ease-of-doing-business and economic freedom indices by global bodies every year, countries that have invested heavily in quality education in the STEM subjects are the excellent ones. Apart from the United States and European countries, Switzerland that produced legends such as Albert Einstein and Singapore are also always constant in the ratings.
African leaders should note that investing in education is not synonymous with the number of people that have even higher degrees. In other words, the concern of African leaders and stakeholders in education should not be the number of tertiary institutions that they licence or decree into being.
What shall it profit African countries if their universities continue to churn out graduates that are not useful to 21st-century industries and public service? Colleges, polytechnics and universities of the 21st century should be institutions that have innovative curricula that can address African peculiar challenges of development. All the curricula that were developed by development partners and colonial masters without concomitant regard for African cultures and peculiar environment cannot be used to develop Africa. Why, for instance, are there many universities and colleges of agriculture in Africa that cannot address the agro-related challenges in the continent?
That is where African leaders and scholars should rethink the old curricula in tertiary institutions in Africa. This is a task that different scholars in different countries should address urgently if Africa’s much-expected rise would not be a mirage, after all. African leaders should give life to their commitment to quality education in the continent. Enough of lip service to funding quality education.