Monday, November 22, 2010

Africa is in need of "appropriate" education

People often speak about the need for "appropriate" technology in developing nations. Appropriate technology is "technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for". (Wikipedia). Appropriate is also about the need to adapt technology to the receiving nation instead of imposing technology that was developed in the industrialized word, thinking that it will automatically function in developing countries.

In this posting, I would like to discuss the need for "appropriate"education, in particular higher education (post secondary school) in Africa. I discussed the ICT needs for primary and secondary education in my posting of November1, 2010. When introducing education in developing countries, we should take the country's social, political and economical aspects into consideration, the same way we do when we adapt technology to the receiving nation.

Until recently higher education in countries of Africa was primarily provided by public universities. Those universities are "funded" by the governments, but in reality they were often under-funded. The professors' salaries were largely insufficient pushing them to have an additional job in the private sector to compensate for their lack of revenue. I observed this first hand during my three years as a professor at the National University of Zaire (1982-1985). My African colleagues had a secondary (in fact primary) job in addition to their professorship. Their salary level was shamefully low compared to my expatriate salary. (In 1958, my father published a paper explaining that there was no justification for that difference. To read more find the paper as REF17 in my father's bibliography posted on his website.). The situation for native university professors was difficult as they often needed to sacrifice their teaching and research profession for their higher paid job and no one could blame them for that.  This combined with inadequate university infrastructure resulted in a poor quality of education and graduating students did not match even the basic skill requirements to work in the private sector.

Fortunately, the situation is changing. Governments in Africa understand the importance of a good education system for the development of their country. However, the gap is significant and one needs to start improving education from the primary school level all the way to higher education. It will take some time before the impact can be felt.

Over the last decade, Africa has seen a rise in the opening of private higher education institutions. These are often imported from Western countries by different organizations. While their goals are usually laudable, their impact is less obvious. The main reason is that they are delivering an education curriculum that is not "appropriate" for the particular country they are in. Curricula based on the needs of developed countries do not necessarily fit the needs of Africa. In addition, the cost for an education in a private institution is also usually much more expensive than in public universities. These private institutions label themselves "university" when they often don't have the research level and quality of academics to justify this denomination. As a result, they are "selling" more than what they can really deliver. The new middle class parents in the country who cannot afford to pay for higher education abroad send their sons and daughters in these Western imported "universities" with the hope that their "better" quality education will get them a job when they graduate. Unfortunately, more than often their student contributes to the statistics of unemployment after several years of studies.

 It is important that the curriculum of those institutions is adapted to the local needs. The curriculum should be developed in cooperation with the government based on its strategic plans for the country's development and with the private sector based on the type workforce it needs. Also, the private sector should offer internships to students during their studies to better integrate the education system with the job force.

A good example is the new Akilah Institute for Women in Rwanda. Co-founded by Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, this institute provides women with practical and market relevant training to find meaningful employment in the fastest growing sector of the economy. If you ever go to Rwanda, and in particular in the capital Kigali, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that tourism is in full development in the country. The Gorilla treks north of the country are attracting thousands of tourists. In the capital you can see major hotels being build by Marriott, Hilton, and a convention center build by Radisson Hotel. They will need to find people to manage and to work in these hotels.

Having identified this need in collaboration with the government, the Akilah Institute started a hospitality curriculum, graduating 50 women this year. the Institute will have a hard time satisfying the growing demand in the country even with its plan to have 800 graduates per year in the near future. It takes a lot more to discourage Elizabeth, who I had the pleasure to meet during her last fundraising trip in the US. She is now looking into e-learning capabilities to extend the reach of the institute. Once again, this is the appropriate step to take as the Rwandan government made significant  investments in the country's ICT infrastructure which will allow institutes to deliver e-learning across the country (see my paper published in Next Billion).

It is also the responsibility of the governments to attract the appropriate education to their country based on their development plans. To support their goal of becoming an ICT center in East Africa, the Rwandan government has engaged with IBM and the East Carolina University to develop a software engineering curriculum at KIST, the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology. The government is also currently working with the Carnegie-Mellon University's School of Computer Science (recently ranked #1 Computer Science School in the US) to open a graduate campus in Kigali.

While many of these private higher education institutions are functioning with foreign development investments, it is also critical that they become self-sustainable sooner than later. Self-sustainability will be possible once they deliver appropriate education or in other words, once they provide immediate value to the country which can be monetized. No need to say that all these companies building hotels in Kigali are knocking at the door of the Akilah Institute. If they cannot not hire individuals with hospitality skills locally, they will need to import workers at a much higher cost from foreign countries. So, it should be in local hotels' interest to financially support the institute that will provide them a skilled work force.

Here different business models are possible. A model used in some countries has corporations pay for students' tuition in exchange for their commitment to work for the corporation  for a minimum amount of time (usually 3 to 5 years) after they graduate. In doing so, the students pay back the corporation for the sponsoring of their studies.

Another model is that once the institution is operational, it should be sustainable with the tuition of the students as donors pay for the tuition of the students based on their merit. This model establishes a personal relationship between the donor and the student that is often very valuable to donors who can act as mentor for the student.

In summary, "appropriate" education will better serve the needs of the developing country as it will ensure students get a job when they graduate and will make it possible for the education institution to be sustainable and even profitable.

See you later alligator...

1 comment:

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