African countries have a burning imperative to transform their economies, and it is now trite knowledge that economic transformation goes beyond just economic growth. For although, African countries have been growing over the past decade, they have rarely transformed, as posited by the first African Transformation Report. Economic transformation encompasses the whole gamut of structural changes needed to make the lives of African people better.
The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), an economic policy institute championing economic transformation in Africa, has provided the most comprehensive definition of economic transformation.
One of the pillars of economic transformation identified by ACET is youth employment and skills development. This skills development has to be done through transformational education. For me, it is the quintessential substructure upon which everything else must be built. And by transformational education, I don’t mean the kind that prioritises grades over skills or teaches more theory than practical skills leading to massive unemployment. The idea of a transformational education system is one that combines both theory and practice in such a way as to produce not just the finest thinkers but the finest thinkers who have the right tools to translate transformational thought into transformational action. Such a system must have three essential features.
First, it must be a system that builds the self-confidence of its products. Graduates must be confident that they can compete with anyone else from anywhere.
Second, such a system must de-emphasize examination and grades. I am not advocating for a system that does not assess students but the goals for the assessment must be skills-driven rather than grades-driven. The latter is the one we currently have where students can score A+ in entrepreneurship but cannot create businesses.
Lastly, such a system must shift from research solely as a contribution to knowledge to research as a problem-solving tool. This way, students’ final year projects will not end up gathering dust at their various University departments but will become problem-solving essays capable of being turned into projects or businesses after graduation.
It goes without saying that this system cannot be limited to schooling. It must include everything else from the levels of the family, work, even play. Transformation must be pursued from all angles. But its foundation is a transformational education system.
By Hardi Yakubu
Hardi Yakubu is Communications Officer at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET).