Education to Die for in the 21st Century

    A few days ago I read an article about a stampede that occurred at a South African University as parents were in line to register for the remaining 800 spots at the university. This was a testament to the hunger for a formal education amongst African students.

    There is a hunger amongst parents to educate their kids because they realize that higher education can change the destiny of their children’s lives and in effect help to build generational wealth. Africans love to learn. Amongst all immigrant groups in the United States, Africans are the most educated.

    With such high demand for higher education opportunities, how are we as Africans preparing to maximize educational opportunities and adequately train the human resources of the future? Africa’s jewels are its human resources. They are more precious than the platinum, gold, silver or diamonds we often known for. The future of progress and great economic prosperity in Africa lies in an literate and well trained workforce. As Alvin Tofler said, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” The prosperity of Africa lies in human resources that will innovate by leveraging technology.

    Our institutions of higher learning should be at the forefront of educating and training human resources to prepare them for economies of the future. What kind of research are we conducting and how are we leveraging the young minds clustered in these institutions? Most of the students who are accepted into the few Universities we have are the cream of the crop and the decision makers of this century. Or are we still stuck in the traditional university structures created during colonialism which taught students to read and marvel western ingenuity then regurgitate it, yet lack the motivation to become innovators ourselves.

    Most students in Africa come from less privileged households and often struggle to finish their degrees because of the huge financial obligation. At the same time most African governments cannot afford to provide student loan resources that will ensure every child is adequately funded. This calls for some creativity and ingenuity on the part of higher education administrators. Why make education so expensive that it is out of the reach of the majority of the population yet we know that in order to prosper in the future our economies require an adequately trained and well educated workforce that will compete globally. The responsibility of our future lies not only in the hands of our elected political leaders but in everyone who makes a decision about the future of our children.

    If entrepreneurism is the future, are our institutions of higher learning adequately prepared to foster innovation and help students to succeed? If there is anything we can learn from western style Universities is that we have to come up with a way to reduce the cost of learning. If higher education continues to be a privilege of the wealthy it does no good for our economies as there are many bright minds living in poverty but with a dream to change the world like William Kamkwamba. A lot of African economies are beginning to blossom and soon we will experience high growth and increased opportunities for the labor force, however we will find ourselves with a workforce that is unable to meet the demands of manufacturing and service based industries because they don’t have the skills required to produce high quality goods that are in demand in the West.

    Computers technology is the driving force behind economies of the future. How are we training our human resources to be able to compete in a global environment driven by computer technology. The statistics on computer use in most African countries are startlingly low compared to the rest of the world. Most jobs including manufacturing ones will require some basic knowledge of a computer. So any University, technical college or training institution allowing students to graduate without mastering some technological skills is doing a major disservice to them and to the future of our children.

    Article by Chengethai Mutamba, 2011
    Part 2: Solutions for Higher Education in Africa

    Other Articles by Chengethai Mutamba:
    The 21st Century Foreign Language Requirement for African Students