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Education: Rethinking tomorrow’s school

While 85% of the jobs of 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, the challenge is not only to integrate the new technological tools into our educational systems but to rethink the educational models on the continent in light of the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Analysis.

By Dounia Ben Mohamed 

Technology has not waited for the COVID-19 pandemic to provide solutions to education issues in Africa. That said, with the closure of schools due to the health crisis in 2020, digital tools overnight became the only alternative to continue studying and teaching at a distance. As a result, the integration of technology into education systems has accelerated. With a tangible impact: studies show that in Africa as elsewhere in the world, education technology (EdTech) has maximized the potential of the learners, making them more competitive and adaptable in the job market. 

In fact, the digitization of teaching, training and, more broadly, education processes, offers opportunities for significant improvement of the continent’s education systems: enriching the educational offer, overcoming the shortage of textbooks and teachers, meeting the challenge of individualized learning, massification of rooms and access to exchange platforms, reducing the physical distances between the sources of information, training and learners … All of these positive elements are promises that are already being (partially) fulfilled by EdTech, which is also benefiting fully from the current digital transition (72% of the African population will have a cell phone in 2020, according to data from the ITU – the UN agency for telecommunications development – 58% having access to 4G). 

“In the light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology integration is no longer enough. We must rethink educational models and devise innovative solutions for universal access to quality education for all”

But while sub-Saharan Africa is the most dynamic region in the world in terms of demographics (2.49% annual growth in 2020, or two and a half times the global average)-with a large majority of young people (60% under 25 years of age)-in the light of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology integration is no longer enough. We need to rethink educational models and devise innovative solutions for universal access to quality education for all. Large international and pan-African groups are already investing massively in the education and training sectors, contributing to strengthening ICT infrastructures and gradually bridging the digital divide. On the government side, many African countries have launched mass literacy programs, led initiatives to ensure Internet connectivity in the most remote areas or provided equipment to the poorest schools. These commitments are to be encouraged because they are the pillars on which tomorrow’s Africa will be built.

The challenge today is to adapt the education system to the needs of African economies, which are undergoing rapid change, and to ensure that young Africans – who are still too often lured by the illusory attractions of immigration to the “aging” countries of the North – have access to quality and fulfilling training that can provide them with professional opportunities in their own country. 

“A real revolution will have to take place in education and training”

But for Didier Acouetey, president of AfricSearch, the leading African human resource recruitment firm, the current model “has broken down. All studies show that the lack of education and the inadequate skills are the main barriers faced by young people in the labor market in general. Africa is no exception to this reality. This is demonstrated, in particular, by the high vacancy rate in certain countries, amid a massive unemployment; confirming the existence of a mismatch between offer and demand for qualifications,” notes the Togolese recruiter.

This is an implacable logic which will become more pronounced, given the demographic trajectory of the continent – 420 million young people aged 15 to 35 today and 830 million expected by 2050, with only 3.1 million jobs created each year for 10 to 20 million young Africans entering the labor market at the same time. Moreover, with 85% of the jobs of 2030  having not been invented yet, according to a joint report published by Dell Technologies and authored by Californian think tank the “Institute For The Future,” it is clear that “a real revolution will have to take place in terms of education and training”, urged Didier Acouetey.  

New entrepreneurs have entered the education sector over the past 20 years

The private sector has understood this major challenge for African states and societies with a whole class of new entrepreneurs who have entered the education sector over the last twenty years, as is the case with the recent proliferation of higher education institutions focused on STEM. Science subjects that correspond to the growing need for technical expertise in all the key areas of the future (Biotechnology, robotics, AI, Big data…). The wheels are therefore turning, but much remains to be done…

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