Human Capital Critical to Africa’s Structural Transformation

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African governments must step up investments in education to build capable human resources that will contribute to sustainable structural transformation of their economies, experts at the ongoing African Economic Conference cautioned on Wednesday in Addis Ababa.  

“In a globally competitive environment, governments need to shift focus and go beyond primary education in building human competencies,” according to Harry Sackey of Vancouver Island University in Canada.  

Presenting a paper on “Human Capital Development in Africa: Agents, Drivers and Implications for Growth and Structural Transformation”, Mr. Sackey said that there was a strong correlation between education and other human development indicators.

He also explained how improving access to education had a direct positive impact in improving  human development indicators particularly, life expectancy, per capita income and reduction of child mortality.   

“Developing human capital is a key element for growth because of the benefits that come with it related to changes in employment structure (improving the employability of the labour force),” he said.  

Human capital is positively associated with growth and facilitating the transformation from dependence on agricultural sector employment to non-agricultural sector employment, he said, calling for sustainable pro-education and pro-training policy from African governments.  

Though Sub- Saharan Africa lags behind all other regions in educational accessibility, Sackey noted that there has been an upward trend in enrolments mainly in countries like Zambia, Kenya and Ghana.

“At the household level, the key drivers of educational attainment are household income, parental education, school infrastructure and quality and individual characteristics such as age and health status,” Sackey observed.

The sixth African Economic Conference on the theme,” Green Economy and Structural Transformation’’ is organized by the African Development Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nationals Development Programme.

According to the team of experts at session chaired by Samuel Bwalya, the Economic Advisor of UNDP Country Office in Mali, increasing public spending in education on the continent is critical to improving human development indicators in Africa and  addressing fundamental long-term development challenges.

“Unequal distribution of knowledge can also have an impact on the economy.  It is also important to pay attention to education system, completion rates and access to credit (which limits access to education).” said Olivier Manlan, the Economic Advisor from UNDP country office in Benin.  

In a presentation on “Public education spending and poverty in Burkina Faso: A computable General Equilibrium Approach’’, Lacina Balma, observed that a 40 per cent across the board increase in public subsidies for primary education, financed by an increase in taxes on households income and sales, not only leads to an increase in welfare but also to a decline in the incidence of poverty for households.   

Experts argue that Africa’s structural handicaps, including their low level of human capital prevents the Continent from attaining internationally agreed development goals and poverty reduction.  
According to Eugenie Maiga, an Economist with the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET), there is a strong link between child health and the mother’s level of education as  educated women were more likely to prevent malnutrition among children.   

Increase in house-hold income also impacts positively on children’s health, Ms. Maiga noted in her paper on “The impact of Mother’s Education on Child Health and Nutrition in Developing countries: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Burkina Faso.’’  She recommended that girls be kept in school for as long as possible.