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Build skills to transform economy, Africa urged

Thursday October 19 2017
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African leaders pose for a group photo during the 28th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa in January this year. PHOTO|FILE

Dar es Salaam. The global development landscape is rapidly shifting. The inventions in science and technology have automatically changed the way people live or do their things.

This trend does not come overnight, but through different transformations of human history. For developed countries, many are always preparing to adapt the new development landscape through skills development.

Building skills is one of the major tools that enable each community or country to adapt the rapid changing global socio-economic landscape. Skills are built to children, youths and adult in different forms of formal and informal educational systems. From the economic point of view, in order to achieve stronger economic growth, investing in foundation skills means simultaneously addressing stunting and building literacy, numeracy, and socio-emotional skills of children, youth and adult.

It is also recommended that countries should continue investing heavily in labour market training for disadvantaged youths, workers in low productivity areas, workers in farms and non-farms rural activities, and the urban self-employment.

While other continents such as Asia, Europe, Australia and America transformed their economies through human skills development, Africa is said to still lagging behind others.

According to the 16th edition of recent World Bank’s published Africa’s Purse, the bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies, Africa is lacking adaptable skills and there is a learning crisis.

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The Purse has revealed that far too many youths across Africa emerge in school without basic skills to advance their lives.

The analysis which published last week has shown that despite of African investment on education and skills development over the last two and half decades, fewer than half of adults can read and write. According to David Evans, Lead economist of the World Bank in Washington DC and an author of the analysis on skills development in Africa, the problem starts at the early stages of learning, mainly the primary education.

Speaking during the launch of the 16th Africa Purse through Video Conference, Evans said; “sustained economic growth is unattainable if the population does not have fundamental literacy and numeracy skills that allow them to function as citizen and work to towards their dreams.” The World Bank’s economist said that investing in fundamental skills for all is a win-win approach that would allow African governments to enhance productivity growth, promote greater inclusion and ensure adaptability of the workforce to the market of the future.

“Special attention should be paid in science, technology, engineering and Mathematics skills in addition to creating the right policy environment to allow investments in technological and innovations,” he said.

The experiences have shown that, despite of enrolling millions of Africans children into primary education, some do not make it as they finish their seven year without knowing how to write, read or counting.

For example in Tanzania, reports have shown that there are number of children in primary and secondary schools who complete their studies without knowing how to write or read.

According to the learning assessment reports by Twaweza, it is estimates that half of the students who complete their primary schools, do not know to read English.

As sub-Saharan Africa seeks to boost innovations, adopt new technologies, and disrupt ‘business as usual’ practice, it will be critical that African government continues to tackle the skill gap that span all demographics, says World Bank. “Most of the children are in schools today than ever and over the past fifty years, primary completion rates have more doubled while completion of lower secondary schools has increased five folds,” it says.

And yet, the World Bank says, big challenge still remains as almost one in every three children fail to complete primary schools. In most countries, less than half complete secondary education while only ten percent makes it to higher education.

“When you compare the levels of the public spending on education to the fact that millions of African children are not acquiring basic skills for productive participation in labour force, you realize that the root course lie on the quality of education,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank lead economist and author of the report.

Sub Saharan African governments, including Tanzania, will therefore needs to strike the right balance between investing in overall productivity growth and inclusion and investing in the skills of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

Therefore, in order to achieve strong growth, African government has been called to evaluate the quality of education investment and strive to build foundation skills, for entire population, not just upcoming generations.