Three important reforms to improve education systems across Africa

In my recent conversations with young people, educationists, and policy makers⁠—as part of Mastercard Foundation’s Secondary Education in Africa stakeholder consultations⁠—there is consensus that reforms are needed to improve education systems across Africa. With 60% of the continent’s population under 35 years, education and skills training cannot be left to chance. African policy makers must be intentional about crafting a system that is comparable with those around the world. As a young African, I want to be able to compete and tap into opportunities at a global stage. In my first blog post, I discussed some of the challenges with the secondary school system in Ghana, and by extension, across Africa. In my experience, three important reforms are necessary; revamping secondary school curriculum and pedagogy, striving for equity in educational access, and meeting the growing need for resources inside and outside the classroom.

Review and update secondary curriculum and teaching methods

It is well documented that much of what is a secondary school system in many African countries is the legacy of colonialism. This system has been ineffective in providing the hard and soft skills required for success in the world of work and/or entrepreneurship. While attempts have been made by some countries at reform, the knowledge-based nature of education persists. The existing model of teaching and learning emphasizes cramming content for academic success. To create a curriculum that empowers African youth, knowledge alone is not sufficient. African policy makers must focus on developing systems that are competency-based. A competency-based system will focus on allowing young people to acquire and develop relevant skills throughout their educational career.

Consequently, any push at curriculum reform must elevate the role of technical and vocational training (TVET). Policy makers should consider TVET as a viable means through which young people can gain important job readiness and/or entrepreneurship skills, and not a pathway reserved for low-performing students. In addition to TVET, greater investment is needed to improve mathematics and science education. Given the technological revolution happening around the world, African youth cannot learn about chemical processes and computers from a chalkboard. Additionally, soft skills should be foundational to secondary school curriculums. Regardless of what one studies, every classroom or extracurricular activity must allow young people the space to communicate, lead, and solve complex problems.

Furthermore, the important role teachers play cannot be underestimated. Curriculums are as good as the ability of teachers to implement them inside and outside the classroom. Teachers should be equipped through a refocused teacher training college (TTC) system which aligns with the aspirations of the curriculum. Additional training programs should seek to make teachers relevant to deliver the competencies young people need to succeed.

Reaching everyone

The unending dilemma of secondary education systems in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa is how to ensure quality at scale. The universalization of primary education has put a lot of pressure on secondary schools to absorb the vast numbers of young people. In Africa, more than anywhere else in the world, millions are left out of the education system. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 32% representing 97 million adolescents of lower and upper secondary school age in sub-Saharan Africa are out-of-school. Issues like gender disparities, poverty, and inadequate infrastructure keep many of Africa’s youth out of the classroom. For Africa to reap a demographic dividend from its young population, factors like one’s location, wealth, disability, or gender should not have a bearing on access and the quality of education. African governments must partner with the private sector to expand infrastructure and implement policies to improve the overall economic situation of people.

Resources for secondary education

In many secondary schools, inadequate resources make it difficult to deliver quality education. This is not limited to STEM alone, as other classes are taught in ways that are detached from the realities of our time. Given the capital-intensive nature of STEM education, governments should consider using lab-sharing models for secondary schools. Policy makers must leverage technology to provide boundless access to educational content. It is important to rethink education by providing young people and teachers with resources to develop relevant skills for the changing world of work.

AUTHOR: Joseph Opoku, Mastercard Foundation Youth Ambassador

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