Peter Tabichi Correspondent
From Cape Town to Cairo, Africa is a continent bursting with promise. The African Development Bank puts GDP growth for African economies in 2019 at four percent — nearly double that of 2016 — paving the way for a more prosperous, open and inclusive future.
However, unless we skill the next generation to adapt to a rapidly changing world of work, these economic benefits will not be felt by those who need them most.
As the 28th World Economic Forum on Africa gathered in Cape Town early this month, the discussions brought into sharp focus the prizes and the perils of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as automation and AI could render obsolete jobs that have existed for centuries, while opening up industries that have never before been dreamed of.
Two-thirds of jobs in the developing world are threatened by automation, according to the UN, with robots replacing many of the low-skilled jobs that have already been shed or offshored in richer countries, meaning the impact will be greater on the world’s poorest nations.
Ethiopia is judged the most vulnerable country, where 85 percent of existing jobs are predicted to disappear. As always, it is Africa who risks the most and stands to reap the least reward unless we act now to prepare the next generation for this paradigm shift.
Africa is home to the world’s largest number of young people. The social consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution could mean a generation of frustrated and underemployed young people without a social safety net, prompting — as we have seen in other parts of the world in recent years — a destabilising force in a number of the world’s most fragile states.
The answer is simple: education. Africa must look to prepare the next generation of young people with the skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow. New areas of employment will be created which we cannot entirely predict.
But the role of education as a vehicle to attain the highest standards and educate the necessary skillsets will be crucial. Currently, more than 61 million children from around the world still do not attend primary level education in sub-Saharan Africa. More and more young women are being excluded from education and the opportunities that await them.
The rote-learning culture, which can still be seen in many classrooms in Africa, is often failing to teach future skills such as creativity and critical thinking. And vitally, education cannot improve without well-trained and well-respected teachers.
UNESCO reports that only 64 percent of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa are trained. Across Africa, teacher absenteeism is an issue that needs to be tackled, with rates among primary school teachers ranging from 11 to 30 percent in developing countries according to the World Bank.
We now see a vicious cycle that fails to persuade the brightest to consider teaching as a career. To face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, more teachers need to be employed, trained and retrained. Education funding is above all required to match this growing need.
Sadly, education aid has diminished since 2009 and is not concentrated on countries where the need is greatest. Sub-Saharan Africa, home to half of the world’s out of school children, received less than half of the aid to basic education in 2017 than it did in 2002.
Furthermore, those who attended the World Economic Forum in Cape Town now know that they have a role to work with the private and voluntary sectors to strengthen public education. Whether they provide financial assistance, technical support, or work experience, they can help bring a quality education for those to whom it has been denied.
They can also work to raise the required standards in Africa’s teachers. Fifty years ago, South Korea was a poor country with high levels of illiteracy. Within a few generations, it became a wealthy country, because it built one of the best education systems in the world, ready to take on the challenges of the future.
Responsive and responsible leadership will see the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and look to overcome them. As we stand at these crossroads, decision-makers and business leaders bear a huge responsibility not to miss this window of opportunity, to consider the common good and act now. What is needed is an education revolution. — newafricanmagazine.com