May 12th, 2011
10:28 AM GMT
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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.

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. that would be nice

    That would be nice for Africa. I have every confidence they can get there. Don't forget to keep women in your schools.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  2. Nana Okai Ababio Appiah

    In order for Africa to stand on it's own, two elements are necessary. Major investments in Education and Health is a must without question. Foreign Aid has not always clearly worked mostly due to weak governments and corruption with the broken system. Africa requires a highly skilled workforce and a solid middle class to make the difference. The continents projective GDP growth will surpass western countries. The question here can innovation and entrepreneurship and government work hand in hand together to realize the potential by investing in its people.

    May 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm |

    Africa is in a fix if you ask me.I am a traveller and I have been to quite a few African countries.Tales of poverty unemployment and corruption ring at every home I visit.In order for parents to make their children to go to school,there must be some incentive to study, like having a good job climate which again requires industrial developement which again depends on education.To top it all, Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world.

    May 14, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  4. tiny murefu

    Only countries to have made strides in education in Africa are Zimbabwe & Tunisia..even the so called powerhouses like South Africa are lagging behind their northern neighbour Zimbabwe and yet when you speak to South Africans they speak so authoritatively about Zim as if they know the country better than Zimbabweans...Zimbabwean teachers hired by the South African government to teach science & maths in RSA have consistently highlighted the fact that the problem for RSA is not educational investment but that the education "culture" or "ethic" that exist is non-existent in RSA, teachers are undisciplined, kids have not motivation....the whole of SADC has a thing or two to learn from Zim, Namibia is doing a good job of it, sending their kids to teacher colleges in Zimbabwe...think of it this way...during the zim economic and social crisis, the first thing to be focused on was to send teachers back to schools

    May 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. Captain Morgan

    Only when Africans have as many children as they can care for and educate will Africa will the continent do what Asia has done! How can a poor man ( or very often a poor woman!) educate five or six children? Impossible! So poverty begets poverty.

    May 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  6. Bettertry

    Personally l believe what needs to be done in Africa for it to catch up with the rest of the world is clear and known to all (at least). But, Africa achilles heel for a very long time has been it's own leaders! Yes, this are the people who l believe need to undergo a serious paradigm shift in order to understand what the word "LEADERSHIP" really means.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  7. ajei

    I never knew Egypt is Africa. I have always heard Egyptians, Libyans, Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans referring to black people of Africa as Africans and themselves as Arabs.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  8. Divine

    I think poor leadership and corruption are also among Africa's biggest challenges, standing in the way of education and the even distribution of Africa's vast resources. Africa has 10% of the world's oil reserves, 40% of its gold ore, and 80-90% of its chromium and platinum group metals; yet millions are poor and go hungry. If a child can't learn on hungry stomach, they need aid on the short term while educating and investing in their education on the long term. So aid and education should go pari passu. As for corruption, the people have to rise up themselves and resist corrupt governments with the help of mass media and the international community.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  9. LaillaP

    @ajei. As far as I understand, Africa has many ethnicities but people born and raised within her borders are called Africans. So yes North Africans(including Egypt, Libta, Tunisia) are Africans be they of Arab ancestry or indigenous African ancestry. Same could be said for Asiatic and Caucasian people who are born and bred in Africa, they refer to themselves as Africans of Caucasian or Asian ethnicity. That is just how I understand Im one of those, born and raised in SA but of Dutch/French ancestry. I do understand the sometimes very misleading perception even in news reports that Egyp and its north African neighbours are mid eastern arabs, think mostly due to its close proximity of their countries to their arab bretheren in mid east but that makes them no less African.

    May 20, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  10. Lungile

    The problem with Africa are the the African people themselves. They do not demand accountability from the leaders – or remove them from power when they do not perform. They do not demand security, education, clean government but seem keen to be for handouts from government and that kills initiative. They want free health care, free housing, free municipal services, free food parcels when everyone knows nothing in this world is really free. Only Africans can liberate themselves when they hold their leaders accountable...

    May 22, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  11. Samon

    @Lungile: well said.
    A damning amount of people vote solely by ethnicity.
    A lot of ppl do not know what a government is expected to do and what they should expect from it.
    Mindsets have been entranched into corruption.
    A people has leaders it deserves. If ppl are shortsighted and ignorant (sometimes not their own fault) and leaders are chosen from these ppl, what can one expect?

    May 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  12. Sarkodie

    In my opinion, Africa needs a massive investment in education-developing the human capital. Many talk of natural resources, but the greatest form of resources is human, not natural, which can deplete. How many developed countries have low levels of illiteracy? For me, all other means of development revolve around education -making the illiterates literates, and the literates, research oriented.
    We can get there.

    May 27, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  13. nits

    I totally agree with th Samon and Lungile, we need good leaders, and it about time we africans stop being complacent and start fighting and demanding from our leaders our basic rights

    May 29, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  14. Ayo

    There's this problem with Africa regarding Western education, at least, I can speak for my country of Nigeria. The Northern part with the 'Boko Haram ideology' or rather doctrine of seeing western education as forbidden is a testament to that.Not only providing school buildings and materials that matters but this idea of seeing education as Western by so group in Norther part of my country is appalling.

    For education to work well for the good of Africa the mind of the people needs to be cleared of misconceptions.

    June 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  15. mr774

    I envy Africans.
    Cause Africa continent is blessed with natural resources, especially in rare metals.
    With its resorces plus children's education, African's future will be bright.
    We Japanese are living in small islands with heavy population but with few natural resorces.
    Japanese resorce is only but education.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  16. Papenfus

    Liberation before education was a slogan of some activists in South Africa from 1976 in rejecting the education offered to black children in Apartheid-era South Africa. And also the following.

    June 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  17. Joseph, Livingstone

    Mr. mr774 and the lot who opine on education as the the escape channel from poverty and decadence to a life of betterment, it is ironic that many people do not still understand the root of Africa's problem. Of the education that is so much talked about, one would want to know what form of education are you people talking about. We have had enough of the so-called educateds so why is it that the continent generally continues on a path of socio-economic declivity. Recall you not that first president of Nigeria was a U.S. educated and that the second Republic cabinet of Shehu Shaga
    was deluged by an avalanche of the so-called very educated(the pseudo-educateds). Nigeria with less than five universities at Independence was better managed than the one of today with uncountable tertiary institutions. So, what are you people talking. The same could be said of Zimbabwe,etc,etc. Africa's problems lie solely at the bedrock of a deviant , unprogressive culture and mindset and so inspite of the African having an Oxford Univ. education he remains still mangled in the debris and tentacles of an evil culture, and so does his mindset and thougths dynamics. What sort of education do you want again for people like Demeji Bankole--spend more money on deviants like that to further come and deepen Africa's woes. What has created the African quagmire is the cultural elevation of deviant behaviour for a
    man who steals public money is dubbed currupt public official when he is actually a thief in the public arena Furthermore he is hailed and heaped with traditional titles and offered the utmost of respects. Now in the history of all civilizations can anyone cite a single example of such public management style that has engendered progress. Mr.mr777, your Noble nation has not come to prominence on the basis of natural resources for the tradional concept of natural resources has no place in human development and that all the talk about resources by our traditional economic models are a farce for there is only one resources that we should recognize, a stable genuine culture that defines public responsibility and accountability and that in all case of human development, the establishment of this has laid the ground for all other things to follow. No amount of education will salvage the African until he abandons a dysfunctional culture that has been the basis of not only his stagnation but retrogression. As a Nigerian the only solution is the introduction of an open immigration into Africa by people from other viable cultures–Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Europeans so as to totally replace the evil culture and trumpet the dawn of a 'New Africa' for settling for anything less is not only same game and
    and same old failure game.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  18. Gerson Isidoro

    Simple true! It seems that our governments are NOT prepared to organize and be the real leader on the big issue. My country, Angola, is a good exemple. We talk about oil, USA and others visitors, economy growth and other issues but nothing comes out of it. Simple but VERY important things as education and health means nothing for them.. We can see international school in Luanda being used by the "sons" of the ppl from gov with a very HIGH (more than 20000 USD/year for any level), teaching international concept and history and we say: What´s going on? If you visit a national school you will face problems such: absentism of teachers, lack of conditions as power, chairs, and other elementary.. and you ask yourself again: How come we are the biggest oil producer in Africa with a small population 15 000 000) and we are weak to do it correctly. I would love you to come over and make a statistic of how many government ppl have their kids on the normal school. May be NONE of them. Why??? What are they doing there?? We should follow Brasil new regulation (they wanna mak i t official) that says all government member MUST have their kids on national school.. it is fantastic!

    July 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |
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  21. ubadavid

    I think African leaders will need to have a rethink in their government of corroption,so as to avert the challenges being faced by Africans.Thank you very much for this post.

    March 25, 2014 at 10:30 am |
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