The future for Africa, which in unfolding as we write, will depend on how well, or badly, its youth is educated. The world has tipped over and is now mostly urban – scientific, machine and fertiliser based agriculture is producing the bulk of the foods we need. The old plough and hoe based agriculture is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, even in rural Africa.
The work of the future is knowledge-based. What you know and how well you know it will determine whether you will find employment or not, whether or not you will become prosperous or poor. The space for people with limited knowledge is shrinking.
The knowledge that is needed is both broad-based as well as sharply specialised. Technology is still developing at an alarming pace and today dominates virtually everything we do. Technology is based on knowledge. Use of technology may not require specific knowledge – as the widespread acceptance of the mobile and internet has shown – but to interact with and produce techno-based output, knowledge is essential.
While the study and mastery of science is clearly indispensable in many occupations, broader knowledge – for example of literature and how to produce it, or story telling in film and television, or content for online websites – can only be obtained through a study of the arts.
Essentially, with change happening at such a rapid pace and different skill-sets coming into play so rapidly, the thrust of education is now on teaching how to think, rather than merely collecting facts and regurgitating them in the exam room. The ability to recognise an issue, analysis it, find a solution and then be able to monetise it is the skill-set most in demand across the world.
How does Africa fare when it comes to rolling out this new form of education? Are our policies, institutions and processes up to speed with the rest of the world? Are we turning out men and women who can compete with the best elsewhere? Are we keeping up or falling behind?
It is to answer this vital question that New African magazine, in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation, is publishing a regular series on education in contemporary Africa.
The aim is to cast the spotlight on various aspects of education as they manifest themselves across the continent and thereby open up the space for discussion and dialogue from educators, governments, students, teachers, parents and indeed everybody in society. Your views and opinions are welcome.