The educational system and policies of Africa, and youth unemployment


It is perplexing how Africa keeps developing educational policies that never see the light of day. There are various initiatives that, if adopted, might improve our educational quality, and thereby reduce unemployment.

The problem is that policies are created by people who do not teach in classrooms and have little to no expertise in how things work in practice. If only educators are involved, there will be a positive shift.

The educational system is designed in such a way that the majority of African youth are not encouraged to think beyond the box. We take classes that are unrelated to our interests. In school, we do not learn any unique skills.

There are no classes on emotional intelligence, stress management, investment and retirement planning, internships, entrepreneurship, or self-discovery; there are no educational counsellors to help us make decisions, and we have little to no knowledge of work-life balance or networking. And this is where the rise in youth unemployment begins. The scarcity of job opportunities for potential youth after graduating could be due to a lack of job vacancies, the presence of artificial intelligence in that role, the years of working experience required, age and gender criteria, or when the ratio of youths ready for the market exceeds the market’s job opportunities and salary, among other factors. As a result of these factors, many youths in Africa are unemployed, leading to an increase in social vices and corruption.

Consider Malawi’s teacher-to-student ratio policy. The government recommends 1 to 60, which is extremely difficult to achieve due to an insufficient number of teachers for a huge number of students, particularly those in primary schools. A teacher is responsible for over hundred (100) students, and is expected to teach between six and nine topics. This is a failed policy!

In Ghana, the brightest students in several subjects are recognised on speech and prize-giving days. Our continent’s educational system is appalling. Students are applauded for performing well in exams, but they are not pushed to improve their employable skills. What does that say about us? The curriculum at school focuses mostly on extrinsic motivation, which means that learners do or act solely to impress, reward or satisfy someone other than themselves. These types of kids may not generate creativity or high levels of innovation in the long run. Educators

must focus on developing intrinsic motivation, which is an inner drive that propels students to explore all possibilities on their own, to be adventurous, and to succeed. So, what we are driving at is that our educational system and policies force most African youths to think like employees. We tend to focus on paper qualifications. What about essential talents for contributing to the economy?

When it comes to inclusive education policy, it exists in the documents but not in practice.

According to the United Nations, nearly 90 nations attended the World Conference on Special Needs Education in Salamanca, Spain, in 1994; yet, only a few countries practice it. There are many students with various disabilities, but only a few of them have access to education due to insufficient special schools or a lack of teaching and learning tools in schools. Others are just placed in inclusive settings to attend school, yet this type of schooling does not benefit them at all. If African countries fully adopt this policy, there may be fewer people on the streets who become beggars because of their infirmities and rely on the government for their fundamental necessities.

A need to move from regurgitation to application systems

Many concepts are taught to students purely to prepare them for examinations, rather than to equip them with practical abilities that will allow them to be more productive than simply waiting to be hired by the government or private enterprises. Most African countries’ curricula do not assist students in acquiring practical skills that will assist them in meeting their everyday needs as well as meeting the expectations of Africa. Most books include knowledge that Africans cannot apply in real-life settings; for example, indigenous knowledge is excluded, particularly in secondary and tertiary education. Students simply memorise for assessments to advance to the next level and then forget after taking examinations.

Poor educational foundation

Most African children do not participate in Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes because they are not available in most parts of the continent, particularly in rural areas. This period is essential for the physical, social and cognitive development of all children. When children do not attend ECD programmes, they struggle to keep up in their early primary school

years. Unfortunately, Africa does not budget for this or offer a shadow budget to this department, making it impossible for the ECD team to reach out to a wide range of people. ECD is the best place for children to get their particular needs assessed and get help before it’s too late. Some deficits, for example, can be diagnosed and addressed appropriately.

Poor educational system

The passing standards in this system are far too low, so there is far too little emphasis on life skills and classroom discipline. And there is an infatuation with academic qualifications; as a result, too many students desire to go to school and earn these theoretical certificates without any practical application, leaving many graduates unemployed after graduation.

Less focus on artisan training

Those who choose this path are taught technical and vocational skills that will mould them and position them to work with others or on their own after graduation. They are graduating not just with degrees, but also with practical knowledge that many others lack. We need painters, plumbers and electricians; yet, we dismiss them. It is preferable to be a plumber with a ready market than a degree holder with little to no work available. 

Highly regulated labour market

Because it is so difficult to fire an inefficient employee, many firms aim to automate as much as possible to hire fewer people. A continent with as many unemployed people as ours should not rely so heavily on automation. Unions are something that can be changed. Unions are far too powerful, and their primary goal is to keep current employees rather than expand the labour force. Unions’ demand for salary increments and better working conditions means that firms are under so much pressure that they do not have the spare capacity to expand their businesses and create jobs.

Less understanding of how to create, multiply and retain wealth

Many people believe it is a finite amount that is just unevenly distributed. We should aim for a much larger cake rather than simply attempting to slice it differently. Our educational system is deficient in teaching students how to produce, attract, multiply and maintain wealth. It also excludes addressing talents, creativity and skills, which are all intertwined when it comes to wealth creation.

Relying heavily on certain sectors for income

More money can be earned if manufactured goods are produced on the continent. Countries that import our raw materials profit significantly more than we do. To manufacture and turn raw materials into completed products, we must adapt to the educational system so that acceptable occupations for unemployed African youths can be developed. 

The current relationship between Africa’s education system and employment

Given the evidence of a high unemployment rate among graduates, it is safe to assume that the African educational system and the employment rate have a negative relationship. Millions of African youths are being negatively impacted by the educational system and its practices. The educational system, for the most part, does not fit our environment. It has a huge gap that must be filled as soon as possible before things worsen.

We can tailor it to our environment by incorporating foundation skills, or the core reading and numeracy abilities taught in primary school, which will allow people to acquire jobs that pay enough to meet their basic needs. These qualities are required for further training and skill development, without which there is little chance of finding meaningful work or engaging in entrepreneurial activities.

Analysis, communication, problem-solving, creativity and leadership are all transferable talents that may be applied in a wide range of situations. Staying in education, as well as internships or work-based programmes, all contribute to the development of these skills.

Apprenticeships and work-placement programmes can also help students learn technical and vocational skills in fields like agriculture, technology and construction.

Unemployment: Good or bad?

  • Unemployment is a contagious disease that fosters social vices and unethical actions. It affects both the unemployed and the employed as well as the national economy, and it has the potential to cascade. It has an impact on demand, consumption and purchasing power, resulting in less profitability for firms as well as budget cuts and lay-offs. It starts a vicious cycle that is tough to break without outside help.
  • Unemployment may be advantageous. It may present an opportunity to pursue a long-held desire and start a new chapter in one’s life. It can also be devastating, culminating in death. Context, attitude, options, opportunity and personal or social support all have an impact on the repercussions of unemployment. On a national scale, however, it is a drag on the economy in question, producing crime and social disturbance at times, but also allowing for the birth and fostering of new ideas at others.
  • In desperation, an unemployed youth may pay large sums of money or offer sex as a bribe to obtain a job in an institution. It becomes a habit once it is realised that money or sex can purchase ‘anything’. It advances to a higher level of corruption, which is evident in all facets of African youths. Some may resort to societal vices such as armed robbery, drug and child trafficking, prostitution, and assassination to survive. This instills fear and apprehension in the continent, driving away international investors.

Education is vital to our country’s growth and development, so it must be present. However, it should be tailored to our environment, be balanced, and give us the required exposure, information, skills and opportunities so that when youths enter the workforce, there is enough room for everyone. Otherwise, excessive unemployment, corruption and social vices would be the daily anthem.

Patricia is a Malawian specialist teacher. She is also currently a SHe Leader at African Matters Initiative.

Elizabeth is a Ghanaian creative writer and hotel manager. She is a Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow and a ShE Leader in the Africa Matters Initiative.

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