By Peter Makoko
West Africa is staring at an incredible opportunity to provide the skilled workers needed to power the global economy over the coming decades. But can the region fix its education system and ensure its youthful talent pool can capitalise on the opportunities of the 21st century digital economy?
According to Titilayo Adewumi, Managing Director at SAP West Africa, bold steps toward educational reform are needed to promote improved learning outcomes and ensure the region an capitalise on the opportunities presented by abundant population growth. “Technology should play a central and guiding role in enhancing education systems in West Africa. In Nigeria, for example, Edo state has launched a new system approach that leverages digital technologies to improve teaching and learning.”
Challenges with education persist
With much of the developed world facing ageing populations and slowing population growth, Africa is expected to play a central role in the global labour market. The working age population in Sub-Saharan Africa will more than double in the next 30 years, accounting for more than two-thirds of total global population growth.
However, despite Africa’s youthful population, only 9% of children in sub-Saharan Africa that enrol in primary school make it to tertiary education, and only 6% graduate.
Mobolaji Abubakre Ogunlende, Commissioner at Nigeria’s Ministry of Youths and Social Development, says: “In West Africa, and by extension, Lagos, only a fraction of children who start in primary school make it to tertiary education and even fewer manage to graduate. The root of this issue lies in the inefficiencies that plague our education systems, including the lack of digital transformation, which forces millions of students to compete for limited spaces in in-person educational institutions.”
Adewumi adds. “A lack of digital transformation in West African education systems means millions of students have to travel long distances to physically collect transcripts instead of simply accessing digital copies online.”
Climate change is adding a further dimension to the region’s education challenges. The impact of droughts, floods, fires, heavy rain and heatwaves on education infrastructure can impact school attendance rates and dropout rates.
One study estimates climate change could keep more than 12 million girls in lower-income countries from completing their education every year from as soon as 2025.
Experts are calling for bold action to address the region’s education challenges.
The World Bank’s Western and Central Africa Education Strategy 2022-2025, for example, brings top education leaders and experts together to advance the cause of education in the region. This strategy also sees investment of $3-billion into the education portfolio, with an additional $2-billion in the pipeline.
According to UNICEF’s strategy for enhancing education in Central and West Africa, the region’s education sector should focus on four key priority areas, namely:
Access to education for all children, including an expansion of early learning programmes, vocational training, and national data production;
Quality learning through improved teaching skills, quality standards, life skills programmes and early learning assessments;
Girls’ education through programmes that support girls’ achievements in and through education; and
Education in emergencies, especially for children living in conflict or disaster zones, where school safety, psychosocial support and information management are critical.
Private sector support critical
Adewumi says the private sector can play a critical role in enhancing education systems and outcomes in the region. “By investing in education and skills development initiatives, the private sector can also ensure it has access to the skills it needs to succeed and grow.”
Research conducted by SAP revealed an acute tech skills shortage in the region, with only 3% of organisations saying they don’t expect to have significant tech skills challenges in 2023. More than nine in ten organisations (93%) also said the need for tech skills has increased in the past 12 months, with two-thirds of Nigerian organisations saying he need for tech skills has increased significantly.
To help organisations in the region address the tech skills shortage, SAP introduced the SAP Dual Study Program, which partners with top universities to take talented graduates into SAP-specific training and help them bridge the gap between university and the workplace.
Commissioner Ogunlende says: “Undeniably, government infrastructure and programs are needed to adequately provide efficiencies not only by increasing conventional capacity but also leveraging on the capacity of private-run programs like the SAP Dual Study Program and the SAP Young Professionals Program that have demonstrated the positive impact of private sector engagement in youth educational programs. By creating a multi-pronged assault on the issue, we can make significant in-roads in upskilling our population. These are some of the plans we would be unfolding in the next set of months in partnership with SAP.”
The SAP Young Professionals Program provides a two- to three-month enablement plan that includes SAP software functional and technical knowledge. Graduates receive certification from SAP and exit the program as Associate Consultants, making them instantly employable within the broader SAP partner and customer ecosystem.
This model creates benefits across the board: youth develop industry-ready skills and secure suitable job opportunities; SAP partners and customers gain access to much-needed talent; countries benefit from the digital skills created; and SAP itself strengthens its own ecosystem.
“By making timely investments into strengthening the West African education system, the region can more readily benefit from its abundant youth skills,” says Adewumi. “However, considering pervasive challenges with access to quality education outcomes, organisations in the public and private sectors must come together to design suitable programmes that can accelerate youth skills development. Done correctly, this investment will pay dividends for decades to come.”