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Rising to Africa’s education challenge

Anne Muraya is the Managing Partner for Responsible Business and Public Policy. She is also the CEO-elect for Deloitte East Africa.

It is predicted that Africa will be home to the largest workforce by 2040. The World Bank has estimated Africa’s working population (ages 15 to 64) is expected to rise by 70% by 2035, while the young population (ages 15 to 24) is estimated to rise by six million annually over the next decade.

The shift in the demographic dividend creates a promising environment for new innovative ideas which will make it a vibrant place to live in, creating numerous opportunities for our continent at the same time deepening of some of the socio economics challenges that we face. One of the greatest challenges affecting the African continent is poor access to quality education.

According to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15-17 are not in school. UNICEF further reported that 69 million children in Africa have dropped out of school due to Covid-related limitations and other factors, reporting an increase of 46% from the pre-Covid era.

Certainly, millions cannot fulfil their aspirations or reach their potential as they are unable to access education, skills and training largely due to inequality, declining productivity and rising social tensions.

Basic education has a substantial impact on the future of the students, particularly in their level of preparedness for tertiary education. In a recent panel discussion hosted by Deloitte Africa, Nigeria’s former Minister of Education and current CEO and Founder of Human Capital Africa, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, highlighted that 9 out of every 10 children are not achieving sufficient foundational literacy. With such statistics, it is evident that Africa is in a crisis, and therefore, it is imperative that we act now in supporting future generations, our students today.

Through her opening remarks, Deloitte Africa’s CEO-elect, Ruwayda Redfearn articulated that Deloitte’s purpose is to make an impact that matters, not just for its people and clients but for society. She went on to say that “WorldClass is one of our key initiatives that supports how we truly live out our purpose and continue to embed our Purpose Beyond Profit vision. We recognise that we cannot achieve our ambitions alone and that we need to work as a collective to co create solutions to transform our continent.”

The WorldClass initiative aims to impact 100 million lives globally by 2030. A fifth of these, 20 million will be in Africa. Deloitte Africa’s WorldClass initiative is focused on impacting lives in Education, Entrepreneurship and Agriculture.

To elevate our efforts in advancing the education agenda, we together with the World Economic Forum and Uplink recently launched the Uplink WorldClass Education Challenge, to support one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, quality education.

In this challenge, educators, entrepreneurs, and innovators were invited to submit innovative and scalable solutions that would support access to quality education, upskilling teachers, and investing 4IR focused skills.

The Uplink Challenge partnered with 12 innovators globally and four of these partnering with Deloitte Africa, to leverage technology and innovation to improve access to quality education. The innovators are Job Oyebisi, Dr Sidy Ndao, Shaun Benjamin, and Robert Paddock and Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.  Job Oyebisi is the founder of StanLab 3D Virtual Science lab in Nigeria which gives access to a science laboratory in a virtual form for students and schools that cannot afford the cost of maintaining a physical science laboratory.

Dr Sidy Ndao, founder of the Pan-African Robotics Competition (PARC) in Senegal, upskills students in robotics, coding and programming equipping them with skills to solve community challenges across 33 African countries.  Shaun Benjamin, founder of It’s Learnable, a platform that offers a compelling solution in supporting teachers, parents and students in South Africa, and Robert Paddock and Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng, who pioneered the UCT Online High School which offers quality education online and turns any ‘room into a classroom’ while offering free access to an approved curriculum in South Africa.

Access to quality education in both physical and digital forms comes with several opportunities and limitations. Reimagining education relates to more than just educational content and evaluating the relevance of current pedagogies, overcrowding in schools and student-teacher ratio. It requires reimagining the value chain, from Early Childhood Development to tertiary, as well as work readiness.

Undoubtedly, we operate in a rapidly evolving environment that increasingly challenges us to think differently. The pandemic highlighted the need for adaption and agility however, in many developing countries this is not a quick solution, leaving many disadvantaged children with the lack of access due to various reasons including: inadequate infrastructure, cost and access to data.

As we transition to the digital age, majority of students are being left behind, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Even with this stark reality, the silver lining is that the pandemic has created more room for people to reimagine education and embrace digitally enabled learning platforms in the future.

If we are committed to unleashing the human potential and harnessing the young demographic dividend of the continent, we must reimagine the education system and ensure that there is access to quality education, more so in this digital age we find ourselves in.

The challenges that affect our continent come with a great opportunity to make a positive impact. This is a shared responsibility and will take multiple stakeholders, from the private sector, public sector and civil society collaboratively transforming our continent – time is not on our side; we need to act now.