The need for Reforms: Diagnosing the Problems of Education in Africa

Proactively speaking, I strongly believe that there is possibility for a virtuous circle of education and growth in Africa before the turn of the century, and we need to create it. “This means that finance ministers of our States in Africa should be concerned about education, and education ministers about economic growth.”

South Africa for example should emphasized technical and vocational education by giving it prestige that is equal to academic education and qualification.  This involved, among other things, a public relations campaign to encourage and get students to be aware of the possibilities therein. We also need to deliver on the quality of vocational and technical education which the entire system is lacking presently.

The importance of education in the development agenda of a nation especially developing countries cannot be over-emphasised. It should be treated with immense importance and proactive resolve in mind. This necessity, combined with the rapid population growth in Africa, has greatly increased the demand for world class education in the continent. I wonder if our politicians understand that, this as a vital prerequisite if we are going to be able to compete with the 21st century world order and thereon.

The demand for education which increases Africa’s ability to supply education to its citizens seems to be in relative decline. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP 2002) indicates that Africa has the lowest index of educational development in the world. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa has an education index of 0.55, adult literacy rate of 60%, and a combined gross primary and secondary enrolment rate of 42%. The comparable figures for developing world averages are 0.69, 73.7%, and 61%, respectively. Apart from the low rates of education, there is gender inequity with twice as many males that are literate as are women and urban/rural disparity.

The focus of this article is to provoke a serious discussion on educational policy and reforms that are needed in Africa. It is encouraging to see that this revolution is gradually building moment in and around social networking platform like Twitter and Facebook, seeming the catalyst pro-factor to create awareness to all sundries.

Educational systems in African countries provide credentials, not skills, to their graduates. We have a labour market across Africa that rewards credentials rather than skills, the more credential one possesses, the stronger the signal for “success”; hence African students demand more complex but less useful credentials. Qualifications that is irrelevant to the needs of what Africa requires to foster development and growth.

Current education policy in African countries (with a few notable exceptions) may be characterised as “see nothing wrong, do nothing to change the system.”

In effect, it becomes a circus, year in and year out routine and we continue to do the same things and hope for a different result. The evidences of failure abound: low enrolment rates and high dropout rates, unequal access (between males and females and between urban and rural), teacher absenteeism, low and declining performance by international standards. Yet politicians and policy makers make no serious attempts to address these issues. African educational problems are part of larger social problems that include corruption, conflict, and poor governance.

One of the major weaknesses of African education is the irrelevance of the curricula to the needs of Africa. The curricula in African schools are the ones left by the colonial masters, preparing students to help administer colonies. In a world increasingly dominated by science and technology, African educational systems continue to graduate students with little knowledge of basic science and technology, this need urgent assessment and redress to meet the needs of our continent.

At a time when the colonial masters are revamping their curricula to stress science and technology education, African countries are reinforcing the irrelevant curricula that the colonial masters established in the 19th century. While Africa faces critical shortages of skills, African educational systems squander scarce resources to turn out graduates who are not equipped to contribute to the building of the continent.

There is evidence that the quality of African education (from primary to university) is low and falling. While educational quality is multidimensional there are indications that the quality of education in African countries has fallen in recent years. African students have performed below the mean on international assessment tests in mathematics and science, dropout rates continue to increase, and students are not able to perform at the grade level. Learning emphasis is on memorisation to pass common matriculation examinations rather than on the development of analytical and problem-solving skills. Yet, with the exception of matriculation examinations, there are no serious policy attempts to improve educational quality. Several reasons are given for the falling quality but the most often cited is lack of resources, including trained teachers, books, and laboratory equipment.

One reason why African countries are not able to reform their education systems may be lack of political courage to take on entrenched interest groups. University students and teachers unions tend to be well-organised powerful political forces in African countries.

Attempts to reduce the privileges they enjoy are met with fierce resistance that African governments cannot overcome. The reality of the political economy of budgeting is that policy makers will not make expenditure changes that elicit serious political challenges (Gyimah-Brempong 1998).

The second reason may be that education policy makers are beneficiaries of the current system; so they have no incentive to reform it. If education is to be improved, the pressure for improvement will have to come from the population as a whole.

As democracy takes its root in Africa, the general population can bring civil and political pressure to bear on their elected officials and education leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats to make the necessary reforms.

@dantebello on Twitter

References

Ablo, E., and R. Reinikka. 2002. Do budgets really matter? Evidence from public spending on education and health in Uganda. World Bank Working Paper. Washington: World Bank.

African Development Bank (ADB). 1999. Education Sector Policy Paper. Abidjan: African Development Bank.

Psacharopoulos, G., and A. Patrinos. 2002. Returns to education: A further update. World Bank Policy Research Paper, No. 2881. Washington: World Bank.

Gyimah-Brempong, K. 1998. The political economy of budgeting in Africa, 1971-1991. Public Budgeting and Financial Management 9 (4): 590-616.

2001. Human Resource Development II: Education, Science, and Technology. Addis Ababa:  Economic Social Policy Division of Economic Commission for Africa.

Hanusheck, E., and D. Kim. 1996. Schooling, labor force and growth of nations. Mimeo. University of Rochester.

Jimenez, E., and V. Paqueo. 1996. Do local contributions affect the efficiency of public primary schools? Economics of Education Review 15 (4): 377-386.

Kremer, M., S. Moohn, D. Myatt, and N. Namunya. 1997. Textbooks, class size, and test scores: Evidence from a prospective evaluation in KenyaLabour and Population Workshop. Yale University.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2002. Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press.

World Bank.  1995. Priorities and strategies for education. Washington: World Bank

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