May 12th, 2011
10:28 AM GMT
When Africans talk about what they want for their continent, the chatter is varied and often contradictory. We need jobs! We need roads! We need aid! We don’t want more aid! We want trade!
What does Africa really need to achieve if African children are to come of age in a continent that offers them more opportunity?
From Cape Town to Cairo, there is an underlying consensus that it is African children themselves who form the basis of the continent’s future.
It’s estimated that by 2050, Africa’s youth will make up nearly 30% of the world’s youth population.
Some economists and analysts say this “youth bulge” is a positive trend because Africa’s people are its most precious asset.
Others worry that the critical issue of educating and employing millions of young people will be the most challenging aspect of Africa’s future.
Education is woeful in many parts of the continent. Even here in South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, there is a worrying failure to educate the young.
One economist regularly repeats this statistic: Of the estimated one million children who start school in South Africa every year, only 9,000 of them will finish school, 12 years later, with a “distinction” or B+ in Mathematics. So each year, there is a pool of only 9,000 students who could potentially qualify for maths-based university courses.
If South Africa can’t churn out enough architects, engineers and economists then imagine the challenges faced by teachers and their hapless students in Gabon or Congo or Mozambique.
I often listen to government ministers and their advisors pontificate about various “pillars” of growth, without including education as a major priority. Look at how Asia’s extraordinary growth in recent decades was fuelled by a determination to invest in “human capital.”
It is widely understood that Africa’s children will not own the 21st century until their leaders put more emphasis on educating them. Poor, barely literate 18 year olds in a rural area cannot compete for jobs. Neither can they take advantage of the investments being made on the continent.
It seems the critical investment of this century will be how Africa’s children are equipped to prepare for the challenges and chances ahead. There is no time to waste.
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