African Youth and Education

Nomfundo Dlamini
It’s almost the end 2015, which marks 15 years since Swaziland, the international community, civil society and the private sector set out to achieve concrete millennium development goals (MDGs). However, the achievements related to the MDGs and the 'Education For All' goal that was set, shows a mixed picture on the ground. Enrollment rates for primary school have increased but the quality of education has not improved. Poorly paid teachers and unqualified teachers, particularly at primary school, have also aggravated the situation of poor education quality. The progression of girls to higher levels of schooling has not been that impressive either. Further worsening the situation is that inasmuch as education is meant to be free at the primary level; there are some hidden costs that we tend to overlook which contributes to some children dropping out of school. 

Poor families still have to buy uniforms, purchase some school supplies and contribute to the maintenance of the school itself, which makes it difficult for those who cannot afford to pay for all of this. These direct and indirect costs of education are a threat and a risk to the Right to quality education for all. Perhaps our governments need to ensure that education is totally free for all. In contrast, It is of no doubt that our governments have made a lot strides and progress across all goals but that does not mean that we have reached a hundred percent success, especially with regards to education. 

According to a recent article in the Times of Swaziland, it was stated that contrary to the Ministry of Education’s Quarterly report, Free Primary Education Grants have not been successfully distributed in some public schools. Thus some schools are not operating smoothly and are having difficulty running mock examinations as they do not have all the equipment required. This is quite alarming as to why the government would make such reports. How then can we expect our youth to do well in academics if they have to operate without all the necessary resources? So, can we safely say that we have successfully initiated quality education in public schools as per the Millennium Development Goals? Learning conditions in public schools are not optimal; hence more parents are taking their children to private schools. My question would then be: what about the poor citizens who cannot afford to take their children to private schools? Basically, the poor are excluded from quality education which is a serious case of unequal rights. However much we cannot deny the contributions of our government in the education system; the loopholes, the corruption and the politics cannot be overlooked or ignored in any way. We can only hope for a tremendous change which will make us appreciate our education system and find new ideas for motivating the government and responsible authorities to take the necessary steps to leverage the education system up.

I personally feel like our secondary education is relevant apart from being expensive but the problem lies in tertiary education as it does not possess the ability to develop linkages with the private sector on facilitating students with gaining hands‐on experience in the workplace. Hence there is a need to re-position tertiary education because the youth/school‐leaver unemployment and social strife tend to be attributed to lack of linkages between tertiary schooling and occupations in the workplace. This collaboration with business and industry would ensure that our education meets the needs of the business sector. Also, these linkages would provide for the development of curricula relevant to the socioeconomic needs of Africa. 

Thus it cannot be argued that Education remains a priority for Africa to foresee inclusive growth that creates employment and livelihood opportunities especially for the African Youth. Therefore, let us focus on how the education system’s failure is leading to another social issue of income inequality and hence, suggest certain policies to improve Africa’s education system and reduce inequality. Post 2015 has brought positive developments and helped us identify priority areas. Now we need to focus on where we have fallen short, strengthen excellence in our priority areas. Basically, this calls for a shift of focus from access to education for all but to equitable learning, which also goes beyond literacy and numeracy. Education that will include cognitive and non-cognitive skills, psycho-social skills and critical thinking that are helpful in the transition from school to work in a globalizing world. We need to begin equipping ourselves with the knowledge of this African continent to use its resources for the benefit of all Africans 

Last but not least, we all agree that Education is a critical formative process that should impart a sense of cooperation that would allow our youth to develop into critical thinkers, future leaders and innovators of tomorrow. My question would be, apart from external factors, are the youth self-motivated enough to learn? If we had all the resources and policies in place would the youth assert themselves and take charge of their education. Personally, I don’t think so, unless we eliminate the passive classroom environment.  Unless we stop turning our classrooms into pressure cookers where students are judged not on their creativity but memorizing capacity, we will continue to produce unskilled graduates year after year.

We are working with the youth because we want to help them to take charge, take control, and successfully manage their lives.  We seem to be forgetting that education without the will to learn is useless. Life has no formula hence we need to motivate our youth to develop self education skills that will lead to a productive lifestyle. Through self education they can discover and develop their talent. As the old saying goes, “Give a person an idea and you enrich their life. Teach a person how to learn and they can enrich their own life”. Therefore we need to customize our education and tailor it to the youths learning personality so that the love to learn can last a lifetime.  Our typical classrooms are a place of acquiring knowledge but with limited motivation. This answers why some school dropouts become self made millionaires because they refuse to be boxed. Perhaps, we should learn and adapt the secrets of these kinds of people. We urgently need education Reform. 

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