This article is brought to you through The European Sting’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum.
Author: Hicham El Habti, President, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, OCP Group
- The world population is expected to reach 8 billion by November 2022.
- By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of the world’s youth.
- Africa’s education programs must be redesigned to nurture talent.
For human development specialists, population growth is no joke. By November 2022, the world’s population is expected to reach 8 billion, inspiring many analysts to speculate on what the future holds. While industrialized countries worry about declining fertility, countries in the South have been warned about high birth rates. As usual, the tone is more alarmist when it comes to Africa.
For decades, development reports have denounced African countries for their unsustainable population growth. This growth tends to be seen as a strain on almost all developmental capacities. Today, more than 60% of the African population is under 25 years old. By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of the world’s youth. For any policy maker this is obviously seen as a challenge: more mouths to feed, more bodies to keep healthy, millions of job seekers queuing. Importantly, there are concerns about how to equip young people for an ever-changing knowledge economy. Today more than ever, universities are at the heart of the battle for the development of the continent.
Youth rhymes with dynamism
Consider how youth itself is perceived in public narratives. When the United States, Japan, or South Korea record declining birth rates, they primarily record a missed potential for active participation in the labor market. On the other hand, Africa’s burgeoning young population continues to be characterized as mere recipients of human development infrastructure, including higher education.
When it comes to creating value, African youth are anything but passive. Millennials have experienced the meteoric rise in mobile phone and internet penetration rates on the continent. Today, young Africans are playing an increasingly active role in shaping their future. In Accra, Nairobi, Cairo or Benguerir, full-fledged start-up scenes are shaking up the way we think about African agriculture, industry, IT and sustainability.
In the majority of cases, these companies are run by Africans under the age of 35. In fact, 2021 was a banner year for the African startup scene, which secured over $2 billion in funding. The African Development Bank (AfDB) attributes this mainly to “large economies and large populations”.
Take the chance
The question is, how can social engineers on the continent adapt their models to further catalyze this innovation? Already, policymakers are taking notice. Last week during the 8e Tokyo International Conference on African Development, AfDB President Akinwumi A. Adesina announced the launch of the African Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Fund, saying, “Together, we have a unique opportunity to reach millions of young people with education.
There is growing recognition that Africa’s education programs need to be redesigned to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that benefits society. It means removing the top-down curricula that have for years restricted the potential of African youth within the bounds of theory. The days when university studies were just a stepping stone are over. Because it serves to foster the demographic potential of youth, higher education in Africa must above all contribute to shaping the future of the continent. It starts with the recognition that African academia does not exist in a vacuum, but is a variable in the dynamics of development.
Higher education is everyone’s business
African higher education systems do not necessarily have to go through a complete reinvention. They also do not require a reproduction of models foreign to the continent. The temptation of such replication is generally what leads to curricula disconnected from the realities of the continent. After all, the usefulness of a university lies in anticipating and resolving legitimate dilemmas on the ground. On the ground in Africa, the ingredients for more impactful education are already in place.
The continent faces development challenges in food security, healthcare, sustainability and infrastructure that need to be addressed urgently. The same urgency justifies a learning methodology that does not wait for the theory to settle in order to experiment with solutions. Energetic, forward-looking and constantly connected to their environment, young Africans are fast learners by design. A ‘learning by doing’ teaching methodology is therefore best suited to encourage them to try their hand at real-world problems directly – in search of real-world solutions.
The infrastructure needed for such learning approaches is considerable. To house real methods of experimentation, African universities must be the beating heart of agricultural, technological, industrial, economic and social ecosystems in their own right.
What is the World Economic Forum on Africa?
With elections set to take place in more than 20 African countries in 2019, the world’s youngest continent is facing a new era.
Organized under the theme “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the 28th World Economic Forum on Africa will bring together over 1,000 regional and global leaders from government, business, civil society and from academia.
The event (held September 4-6, 2019) will explore new regional partnerships and entrepreneurial and agile leadership to create pathways to shared prosperity and drive a sustainable future.
Participants will discuss ways to accelerate progress on five transformative pan-African agendas in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, responding to the priorities of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
Learn more about the Forum’s impact in Africa and our launch of a new growth platform in Africa to scale the region’s start-ups to success.
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Which brings us to the elephant in the room: such ambitious projects for African youth need significant financial support. Fortunately, public and private actors in Africa are already at work to address key development challenges. But relying on the state alone for funding is not enough. Any realistic and impactful education system must harness multiple synergies between African universities, industry and businesses through targeted investments. For the continent’s private sector, the return on investment is irresistible: access to applied research and a pool of bright young talent hungry for impact.
Like many of my African peers in the field of education, my advocacy for African youth comes not only from firm conviction, but also from lived experience. As President of Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), I have witnessed the great things that can be achieved when academics, innovators, industry, government and communities galvanize around noble enterprise. talent incubation.
Founded by the OCP Group, UM6P initially focused on areas within the competence of our industrial partner, and by extension the development of Africa: mining, agriculture and technology. But in five years, the academic offer of the UM6P has flourished in the following fields of study: science and technology, business and management, and human sciences.
Today the UM6P welcomes more than 3,400 young Africans, 53% of whom are women, and approximately 70% of our students benefit from scholarships. Their learning path consists of programs in which hands-on experimentation is a core method. From experimental farms to living labs to digital labs, the installations introduce students and researchers to reality, not just a miniature version of it. With this in mind, UM6P has created StartGate, our start-up campus dedicated to supporting companies at all stages of maturity.
Higher education in Africa needs funding. But for the continent’s growing knowledge economy, the cognitive power of universities is also a boon to businesses themselves. Much has been said about Africa as a land of promise and opportunity: precious natural resources, geostrategic positioning or investment potential. While true, these ideas often fail to take into account our continent’s most valuable asset: its youth. Only by embracing their dynamism can Africa truly reach its potential.