Accra- I stood at the back of the Trinity Cathedral -- the seat of the Episcopal Church in Monrovia on June 3rd, 2019 and witnessed the Baccalaureate service of the African Methodist Episcopal University on Camp Johnson Road, Monrovia. Scores of graduates arrived with choruses of cheers by friends, family members and well-wishers. One of them shouted, almost hysterically, 'We've made it finally!'
For a moment, I thought within, re-echoing his joy. What next? Hundreds of African youth graduate each year from Universities and other tertiary institutions across Africa. Most of them are trained to fetch for jobs and join the already saturated labor market and become employees. Due to lack of relevant and applicable skills, hundreds of graduates are left stranded and join the ranks of Africa's unemployed. If students in Africa are trained to think, innovate and create, half of the unemployment issues in Africa would drop. A lot of young Africans drown in the Mediterranean in search of jobs that were created through innovation.
The situation is worse for rural youth and youth with disabilities. Opportunities for youth in rural areas and those with disability remain scant. In my analytical paper presented at the Liberia Development Conference 2017, I outlined a holistic approach to harnessing the potential of every youth in tackling unemployment by providing them with the right skill set, relevant education requirements, etc.
In reality, a lot of opportunities are masked as challenges and could open up doors for lot of Africa's youth. Also, with the evolution of technology, so much innovation is possible by adequately leveraging technology to solve some of today's complex problems.
A lot of factors intersect in crafting, implementing and sustaining a comprehensive and contemporary education policy for Africa. A select group of Mandela Washington Fellows - a flagship program of the Young African Leadership Initiative, a program initiated by US President Barack Obama would seek to deliberate, sort out challenges and proffer solutions towards an inclusive education policy for Africa. This year, young African thought leaders are gathering in three African Capitals: Accra, Ghana; Kigali, Rwanda; and Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss three thematic areas that sit at the intersection of Africa's Development: Education, Good Governance and Youth Empowerment.
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf decried Liberia's education system as a 'mess', out of apparent frustration at a system that seemed to have lost its bearing after long years of civil conflict, massive brain drain and obsolete curriculum. Pre-war Liberia could boast of one of Africa's most resilient education systems attracting students from every corner of the globe to study at secondary schools, Universities and professional schools like the School of Law and Medicine.
Liberia is not alone -- most countries across Africa are stuck with colonial-transferred curricula, subjecting students to absorb materials that prepare them for the job market with over emphasis on University education, Western History -- thus grossly negating Technical & Vocational training, adopting to changing realities, learning African history, etc.
There're general concerns of continuous teachers training, reassessing curriculum to include Technical & Vocational training, leveraging technology, creating safe spaces for those with disabilities, requirement for slow learners, the availability of schools for populations with special needs like autism, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, etc.
The role of teachers is crucial in achieving these goals. 'Super Teachers', as articulated by Dr. James Dobson, Education Director, USAID Ghana, are integral in identifying the needs of students and helping them achieve. 'Edu-heroes' are the front liners, according to Ibrahim Yunus Rashid -- a teacher and school owner from Tanzania and a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow.
The need for mentorship, professional accountability and leveraging existing infrastructures remain cardinal tools for uplifting the quality of education in Africa.
Achieving these goals require sound policy and good governance that prioritizes education through intentional budget allocation that targets provision in specific education sectors: primary education, education for rural youth, education for those with disability, extra curriculum and providing safe spaces for students with disability, increased enrollment rate of girls, etc.
Africa's education challenges provide opportunities for reassessment of the system to be as inclusive as possible, including attention to the Arts, Sports and an education that fulfills the full development of a person. The right education policy for Africa would require Good governance at local and national levels and would liberate the African youth to think critically and provide answers for some of today's pressing challenges. The right tools, environment and skill set would be the catalyst in achieving those. We hope that these recommendations coming out of the deliberations reach the desks of policy makers. And, we hope they act to save the continent.
Let's hope together.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Author, Advocate, Inspirational Speaker, OSIWA Poetry fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He is the Author of the Book: 'Scary Dreams', An Anthology of the Liberian Civil War.