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Raphael Obonyo

February 15th, 2023

Education and jobs are crucial for Africa to reap its youth dividend

4 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Raphael Obonyo

February 15th, 2023

Education and jobs are crucial for Africa to reap its youth dividend

4 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Africa’s young population is a great asset, but action is needed to support them, argues Raphael Obonyo. A secure future for Africa will hinge on the effective investment in its youth.

Young potential

Today, Africa’s population is 1.2 billion but it is projected to more than double that by 2050, when it will comprise a quarter of the world’s population. Already the world’s youngest region, Africa will be home to 38 of the 40 youngest countries by the middle of the century, and its median age will be under 25 years old.

Various studies and national youth policies recognise that Africa’s young people have not been fully brought into the economic and political mainstream, effectively marginalising them. There are signs this is changing. In total, 32 countries have operational national youth policy frameworks that seek to improve opportunities for individuals and generate economic growth for their societies.

To reap the youth dividend there are three key areas that require urgent attention.

First, governments must expand education and recognise the importance of educating both girls and boys. The UN’s recently released status report on the sustainable development goals, revealed slow progress. It pointed at the need for increased investment in education through financing, updated curricula, and accelerated e-learning.

Despite the UN’s overall assessment, there are pockets of progress that should be celebrated. The government of Botswana has increased the use of technology to enhance learning in schools through the Smart Botswana Digital Transformation Strategy. Botswana is rolling out highspeed internet connectivity to all institutions of higher learning and providing computer devices for learners and teachers. Zambia has introduced free secondary education as part of the Education for All policy. And Ghana enrols all children in at least two years of preschool and is sending as many girls as boys to school at all levels.

It is just as important what is taught and how. Governments should gear education towards acquiring skills and competencies to enhance the integration of young people into the world of work, and not just towards getting a qualification. One of the key education reforms that African countries should continue to roll out is investment in vocational education. Technical and vocational education and training is the most practical avenue for acquiring readily employable skills for the world of work.

The second required area of attention is increasing employment opportunities. Africa faces an employment pincer movement with a lack of jobs for young people, and an increasing number of young people in need of work. More efforts are required to increase the number of jobs that are targeted towards Africa’s young population.

Finally, on a continent where 60 per cent of employment is self-employment, it is essential to train people in entrepreneurial and business skills. The right types of policies and institutional support will help expand and develop the informal sector to create productive and well paid self-employed and micro-enterprise jobs.

Dividend or drag

The majority Africa’s young people do not have stable economic opportunities. According to the African Development Bank, each year 10-12 million young Africans enter a labour market where only 3 million jobs are available. The International Labour Organization’s 2022 report on global employment trends for youth found that “over one in five African youth were not in employment, education or training in 2020.”

Addressing the task of addressing youth unemployment is a herculean one. In its attempts to find solutions, the government of South Africa is making a deliberate effort to engage the private sector. South Africa is encouraging business to employ more young people by through Employment Tax Incentives, and the Youth Employment Scheme Programme. It is also supporting and buying from businesses owned and run by young people.

In Kenya, the government is promoting youth entrepreneurship by including training in the school curricula, providing access to credit, mentorship opportunities and better information on market opportunities. The government introduced the Competency Based Curriculum, in addition to creating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics centres of excellence in public secondary schools. It also established Youth Empowerment Centres that act as ‘one-stop shops’ where young people can access key services as well as acquire skills for their personal development.

Include youth in decision making

Including young people in decision-making is the wise thing to do given the challenges they and Africa faces. This is often dismissed citing a lack of experience. But young people have the fresh ideas, energy, and creativity that the society needs to move forward.

In Morocco, the World Bank has devised interventions to support and give voice to the youth movements in more formal venues of decision making. The bank is harnessing youth ideas, potential, and participation. As a result of the project and other initiatives, young people are being placed at the center of development in Morocco.]

Kofi Anan once said: “I’m convinced more than ever that any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind”.

African countries must support and engage with its youthful population. It they can meet this challenge the continent’s great potential can be unleashed. If they fail to do so it could lead to disaster.


Photo credit: Pexels

About the author

Raphael-Obonyo

Raphael Obonyo

Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst and widely published author in Africa and around the world. He has served as an expert with the United Nations and the World Bank. He’s authored and co-authored numerous books. Obonyo is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

Posted In: Economics

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