At TED’s “We The Future”, Ashesi President shares a vision for African higher education

February 11, 2019
As Africa prepares to become home to the fastest growing youth population in the world, how can the continent’s education systems work to prepare its leadership, maximize the productivity of its citizens and create enduring prosperity?

At “We The Future”, a series of talks at the TED World Theatre, hosted in collaboration with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation, Ashesi President Patrick Awuah shared thoughts on the state of teaching and learning in Africa; focusing on key opportunities for African universities to play a meaningful role in defining the continent’s future, and the leaders that will oversee it. Here are some of the key thoughts shared in the talk.

In the trees of Africa’s population boom, lies a forest full of opportunity
“By 2030, 1 out of every 5 people on earth will be African. […] Even for the wealthiest economies, this kind of growth would be difficult to manage. In Africa, it will stress everything. Infrastructure, public health, the rule of law, the competition for resources, agriculture, the availability of jobs. Yet built into this population growth, is potential. Meeting the growing demand for food clothing and shelter, expanding infrastructure, providing services like health care and education, finance, and even recreation, all represent an economic opportunity for African entrepreneurs. […]

However, the benefits that Africa and the world can gain from a growing population will not be automatic. It will depend on productive citizens, and the enlightened effective leadership necessary to create an enabling environment on the continent. Developing such citizens and leaders is the business of Education.”

Scaling not just access to education, but also the quality of education
But the truth is there’s a severe crisis of teaching and learning on the continent. The Africa learning barometer, for example, identifies 12 countries including Nigeria and Ghana, where over 30% of children do not meet minimum standards for learning by the third or fourth grades. The quality problem is especially vivid in higher education, with many graduates taking years to find their first formal employment and employers, on the other hand, saying that university graduates are not well-prepared and lack the critical skills necessary to secure jobs that currently exist.

So here’s the thing: it’s not that Africa is not scaling up education; it is. Across the continent, countries are approaching full enrollment in basic education, and over the last four decades, higher education in sub-Saharan Africa has grown at double the rate of the rest of the world. So, Africa is scaling up the education; what hasn’t been done yet though is to scale up quality and effectiveness.

The way we teach is wrong for today; it is even more wrong for tomorrow given the challenges before us. And so we need to educate people differently, and we need to do it quickly.”

A three-step approach to a stronger higher education system: find guiding exemplars, amplify impact through collaboration across institutions and develop extrinsic motivation.
“The scale of the problem is so large that the solution will require the combined efforts of governments and the market – including nonprofit and for-profit actors. […] The continent will need exemplary institutions of learning clustered in East, West, Central, North and Southern Africa that serve as beacons to others; that is uncompromising in achieving quality in teaching research and innovation and that act as magnets for our best and brightest to stay on the continent. We are proud of the progress that we’ve achieved but this is only one model; there are other institutions of excellence around the continent, and this is as it should be.

Second, we need to amplify our efforts by working together. By 2030 the UN estimates that African University enrollments will grow to 12 million. Between now and then we’ll educate perhaps 30 million students cumulatively over the period. If through collaboration we could improve the quality of education for these students, we would make a tremendous difference on the continent and in the world. […]

Finally, as a way of providing external motivation for institutions, I believe that African governments and educational leaders need to come together and agree on a continent-wide evaluation and ranking system that focuses on students and their growth; and that focuses on impact in our countries. Most global ranking systems today are not designed around the unique context of Africa or the unique context of our universities. An Africa centered ranking system would provide the direction and strengthen the motivation of leaders and faculty to focus on outcomes for students and for our society.

Are our students really learning? Are they finding meaningful jobs after graduation? Are graduates ethical? Do they have empathy? Are they trustworthy? How prepared are they to start businesses of their own? Are we writing for journals only or is our research affecting and making a difference in economic, social and technological advancement on the continent?

I believe that a solution is within our grasp; a solution is within our capabilities today. What remains is for us all to proceed with conviction and with determination.”

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