Addressing a Disconnect—Is Education in Africa Missing the Mark?

Written By: Ashley Macey

This is a response to “It’s Time For a Learning Revolution In Africa” written by John Fallon and published online via Forbes.com on September 25th, 2013.

In a perfect world, education responds to students’ needs and teaches them practical skills that will benefit them in the future. Yet it is abundantly clear we do not live in a perfect world. So the question becomes, how close can we get to this utopic ideal?

Education in Africa, as it is in all parts of the world, has the unique ability to transform lives and inspire growth. Today, a third of African children reach secondary school which is higher than in any other period in history. Of course this also means that the large majority of children in Africa (roughly 66%) receive no formal higher education at all.

Most of what people hear about in terms of education in developing countries is how we need to get more people into schools. Based on the above statistic, this doesn’t seem that crazy. Theoretically, the more children that enrol in school means that there will be more educated young adults contributing to their communities. Yet, is this really the case?

There’s one important part of education in developing countries that somehow does not come up in the public discourse: how and what the children are being taught. When we see a statistic like the one above our immediate response is to try to get as many people into an education system as possible to at least give them an opportunity. There is no question that education saves lives. By teaching students basic reading and writing skills as well as providing information about sanitation and safety, students are given the skills necessary to break the poverty cycle and create new opportunities. Yet John Fallon, Chief Executive of Pearson, argues that the educational practices in Africa may be missing the mark: “despite high unemployment rates on the continent, employers often struggle to fill vacancies … there is a disconnect between what is being taught in school and the knowledge and skills young people need to become engaged and productive citizens.”

Doesn’t such a mismatch exist in Canada too? How often have you used Pythagorean Theorem after Grade 10 or substantially increased your job opportunities by quoting Macbeth? Although these are taught in our schools as a cultural and multi-disciplinary way of education, at the end of the day the chances that they increase our likelihood of getting a job is very slim.

The major problem with Fallon’s critique is its practicality. The fact still stands that more than half of African children will not reach secondary school and the sanitation, health, and basic skills that they are not receiving could have saved their lives and the lives of their children.

What do you think—is the focus on the disconnect between what is being taught and what young adults need to get a job realistic? Or should emphasis be placed first on increasing enrolment to address primary concerns of literacy, sanitation, etc? Let us know what you think.

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One response to “Addressing a Disconnect—Is Education in Africa Missing the Mark?”

  1. Alice says:

    Hey Ashley,

    I agree completely. There is a definite disconnect between what students need to learn in Canadian classrooms and what is often taught. Unfortunately, change comes slowly.

    The need for applicable soft and hard skills are needed in all schools. In the case of rural African schools, I’ve seen science class taught with an agriculture focus. Students were taught about certain crops, weather, and soil. If this isn’t something already addressed at RTV science classes, perhaps this is something to consider? Where math and literacy is important, agricultural training is just as important. Perhaps it’s something to look into in addition to the agricultural training that’s offered adults in RTV villages.

    Thanks for raising the question and love the new book/article review blog formats!
    – Alice

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