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Changing the education landscape to ensure jobs for youth in Africa

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Lowering youth unemployment across Africa is an urgent problem and greater vocational and industrial training programs may be the best way to put people to work. That was the major take away from “Skills and Technology for Africa’s Transformation,” a panel discussion held Thursday as part of the African Development Bank Group’s (AfDB) Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

“Africa needs an overhaul of the education system,” said Hendrina Doroba, Executive Director of the Forum for African Women Educationalists. “We need to look at the skills required to move forward.”

She was just one of several passionate voices on the panel that included Gnamien Konan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for Côte d’Ivoire; Deputy Director General of UNESCO Getachew Engida; Côte d’Ivoire Senior Minister of Employment, Social Affairs and Vocational Training, Moussa Dosso; African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, Martial De-Paul Ikounga; and the President of the Youth Leaders League of Côte d’Ivoire, Moussa Kone.

With Africa in a paradox of rapid economic growth, the labour market is plagued by a lack of skilled workers and low productivity. How to incorporate the burgeoning informal economies like street vendors and small informal business owners into the quickly changing labour force is a major challenge participants raised.

There was overwhelming concern about how much education funding it will take to train the 11 million youth making their way into the workforce. And, some said, it is a problem for all the stakeholders. “The lack of political will is holding us back,” said Engida of UNESCO.

One way to begin changing the education landscape, said Kone, is to push for equity and transparency in generating funds for youth programs. “That will aid innovation.” While it may be a small step, he said, it is one in the right direction.

Participants called on the AfDB for more help. Though Bank officials in the audience agreed that education is fundamental to push economies forward and that the AfDB is active on this issue, currently, the Bank’s mission is more heavily invested in infrastructure and other work.

One panelist suggested encouraging nations to divert funds from military budgets and other areas to help fund education programs across the continent.

Brain drain has also struck many African nations. Many students who do achieve higher levels of education often flee for wealthier, more economically progressive countries. Finding ways to make Africa and attractive choice is crucial.

Though panelists raised several short-term solutions including technical training across the variety of sectors like mining and agriculture, which are exploding in Africa, they also stressed the need for long-term solutions for the future education needs of the continent. “What we spend on education is not an expenditure,” Engida said, “it is an investment.”

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