Nothing elicits more debate than Africa Rising. But there is no debate on the fact that GDP has grown at an average rate of five per cent over the last 15 years. What is not debatable, however, is that the average rate of job growth in the last 15 years is less than three per cent.
Africa’s is a tale of jobless growth. Across the continent, nearly 90 per cent of the jobs created were in the low-productivity sector, the so-called informal sector.
It is estimated that nearly 70 per cent of the jobs created in the informal sector are highly vulnerable and about two-thirds of those who hold such jobs are working poor.
In Kenya, for example, the informal wage sector accounted for 85 per cent of jobs created in 2017. Moreover, the rate of job growth in the private sector has declined from seven per cent in 2013 to 2.7 per cent in 2017.
The near collapse of Africa’s manufacturing sector, what many observers characterise as de-industrialisation, and the surge of retail in cheap imports, as well as the near collapse of the agricultural sector have contributed to slow growth or even decline in the growth of formal sector employment.
African economies are staggered by an inordinate burden of unemployment, underemployment, vulnerable employment and working poverty. Official government statistics on labour markets are unreliable and the concept of manpower planning is alien.
Educators and trainers have no idea about what skills are needed in the market and employers have no interest in what goes on in the education and training sector.
Africa’s youth comprise about 80 per cent of the population and their number is expected to rise to over 830 million by 2050. Hence, Africa’s unemployment challenge is essentially a youth unemployment crisis.
It is a crisis of monumental socioeconomic and political proportions. There will be no demographic dividend until we provide quality education for Africa’s bountiful youth.
Education is critical to innovation, job creation, raising productivity and even defining the future of work. While the expansion of schooling — with gross enrolment ratios rising at primary and secondary levels — is laudable, it is not producing learning.
According to World Bank’s World Development Report 2018, 75 per cent of Standard Three pupils in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were unable to understand a sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy.” In Tanzania, comprehension did not improve even when students were tested in Kiswahili.
Poor learning outcomes are not an inevitable outcome of rapid expansion in schooling. Africa must invest in quality teachers, leverage the power of technology and the opportunity for online learning, and align its curriculum to 21st century workforce needs.
Just as African governments are clear about gaps in infrastructure, energy and housing, we need absolute clarity on the learning and skills gap on the continent.
Such assessments need to include gaps in learning resources and technology and teacher competence. No physical investments will matter until Africa’s learning crisis is addressed.
Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University