Technical and Vocational Institutions must build STEM skills in Africa’s Youth

Original article published by the African Development Bank Group

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digitization in the workplace, sharpening the need for technical and vocational training aligned with Africa’s development needs and youthful population and focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

This was the main takeaway from a webinar organized by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa on 8 July 2021.

The event, titled Rethinking the role of skills development in future work and lifelong learning, in light of digitalization and 4th Industrial Revolution, was organized with support from the African Development Bank, the World Bank and GIZ. The virtual event attracted over 300 participants from civil society, academic institutions and development and philanthropic organizations. Panelists and speakers exchanged their experiences and offered recommendations.

“The issue of human capital development in Africa is related to the training of the youth,” said Cheikh Oumar Anne, Senegal’s Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

He added that half of Senegal’s population is below the age of 15, and emphasized the urgent need for training in science and technology skills to prepare them for the job market of today and tomorrow.

Covid-19 formed a backdrop to the event. In addition to the pandemic’s health and economic effects, it has caused students in Africa to lose as many as 26 weeks of learning.

Dr Beth Dunford, the African Development Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, noted that the pandemic has had diverse labor impacts, “ranging from job creation, job displacement, widening skill gaps and automation, which is likely to increase inequality by displacing low-skilled workers.” She said, “Covid-19 really brings to the fore the need to increase investment in skills development enabling infrastructure such as internet connectivity.”

Discussions stressed the importance of 21st Century skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis. “But also we should not forget the soft skills. To communicate. To persevere. To adapt,” said Dr Rita Bissoonauth of the African Union. Labor markets are changing so rapidly that “50% of the existing jobs that we have today will not exist in the next 15 years,” she added.

Participants broke into three groups for more tailored discussion along three themes: Relevance – Unlocking the potential of the skilled African workforce with relevant technical and vocational skills development, led by GIZ; Quality – Unleashing the power of educational technology (EdTech) in TVSD, led by the World Bank; and Reaching out to vulnerable groups, led by the African Development Bank.

In these break-out sessions, participants discussed the importance of tailoring training to Africa’s context; the role of the private sector; and existing solutions such as the Global Skills Academy, a UN initiative that matches learners with training by leveraging partnerships with over 250 vocational centers across 160 countries.

The webinar closed with a number of recommendations. Among these were the need to consider high technical, low technical and no technical skill solutions for workers; to put in place more planning at the national level in partnership with the private sector; and to retrain TVET trainers to meet the demands of a rapidly changing labor market.

ADEA, a pan-African institution based within the African Development Bank, is a network of policymakers, educators and researchers, and a catalyst for educational reform.