Guest Post: Rethinking Old Practices of Learning

This guest post is by my friend Ifunanya Nwokedi. I’m excited about her starting to put her point of view out in the public square.

While Africa needs a well-educated and experienced graduate to drive change and development, these are not the experiences students receive at universities. In their Quartz article, Seth Traudeu and Keno Omu detail the disconnect between market place skills needed to drive an economy and the experiences African students receive at institutions of higher education. Many African graduates find themselves too inexperienced for the global workplace. They cannot compete internationally, and as a result neither can African economies.

To address this need, corporate employers, African universities and students should build partnerships aimed at developing an experienced African graduate for the 21st century. Traudeau and Omu illustrate that human capital, infrastructure constraints and a disconnect between skills and the market place are major reasons why many African graduates are too inexperienced for the global workplace.

Moreover, many higher education institutions have developed poor learning cultures and lack the infrastructure for knowledge transfer that would prepare African graduates to compete internationally. For example, many students learn through handouts (an abridged version of actual coursework), because a large number of university faculty are on strike – more than 50% of the academic year.

This precise disconnect between the state, higher education institutions and employers is the problem. When university professors are not paid regularly and have to go on strikes to receive attention from state actors, it becomes impossible for these universities to produce graduates capable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.

Furthermore, many African ministries of education rarely review academic curricula, if at all, to ensure that they are aligned with skills needed in the market place. Likewise, the decline in state support has led to problems of access, quality and an aging faculty in African universities (Akilagpa Sawyerr, 2004).

In 1995, the World Bank noted that a severe decrease in university funding across many African states has resulted in weak institutional management capacity. For example, the absence of accountability mechanisms has led to the mismanagement of resources and much more. According to an Economist article, administrative leaders at many African universities resort to over-recruitment in order to manage resource constraints. As a result, opening new universities to meet growing demand has worsened the problem.

Institutions of higher learning are supposed to represent communities of scholarship, where ideas are nurtured, refined and critiqued to develop a more accurate conceptualization of the world around us. However, without regular pay, improved infrastructures and increased resources, such an environment ceases to realize its full potential and instead becomes an arena for organized crime, and mismanagement of labor, human capital and resources.

To be clear, it is no longer just a state problem, but one that involves both state and non-state actors such as corporations. Employers can no longer be identified as by-standers, but also as actors that can collaborate with higher education institutions to produce the appropriate type of graduates capable of accelerating African economies and development into the future.

Some of these corporations seem focused on experience rather than highlighting academic degrees during the recruitment process, which undermines the importance of educational achievements. As a result, many African graduates remain at a loss for how to promote themselves and their academic achievement. Nonetheless, some higher education institutions across the continent such as Makerere University have mandatory internship programs while the University of Cape Coast, and the University of Ghana, Legon are among the best in the continent in driving research and innovation.

With evidence of the disconnection between actors involved in reaching effective higher education goals from Sawyer and others, I insist that higher education institutions should assess their goals and develop a more comprehensive plan to better ensure that they provide educational experiences that can translate into work experience for African students.

African universities must take steps to build partnerships with corporate leaders to meet the demand and supply needs of the marketplace by creating opportunities for students to gain skills during their academic careers. For example, students could conduct and present their research projects at conferences as part of graduation requirements, industries could support universities by building libraries and labs that mirror the workplace; and universities could create knowledge transfer activities that engage students and faculty. The African students could also find effective ways to demand their right to quality education, working classrooms and labs that meet international standards and speak out when leaders deprioritize their needs.

 

No. 29 – Three AM Reads: Education in Africa Needs $16-$18B | Dangote Refinery Signs Equipment Deal with Honeywell | Egypt Tops List of Countries for Hotel Development

Report Touts Investment Opportunity for Private Education Across Africa

DC-based Caerus Capital put together a report on the investment opportunity in private education across Africa. The authors project that 25% of school age children – 66 million children – across Africa will be in private education by 2021, up from the 21% who are currently enrolled. The authors also point out that private education across Africa needs about $16-$18B in private investment over the next five years to ensure a strong industry on the continent. One of the rough data points in the report is that ~30M school-age children across the continent are not in school right now. I’m still digesting the report, but a few things immediately come to mind:

1) African stakeholders need to be involved in funding these type reports. None of the funders of this report are African organizations.

2) The investment opportunity for education is massive on the continent, yet I’m nervous about governments not being a good partner with the private sector in developing private education. That leaves much room for private education that is all over the place in terms of quality.

Dangote Oil Refinery Company Purchases Equipment from Honeywell International

New Jersey-based Honeywell International announced that one of it’s subsidiaries will be supplying the Dangote Oil Refinery Company with an equipment package for the construction of its single-train refinery complex near Lagos. The refinery is slated to be the largest of it’s type in the world. Construction of the refinery is slated for completion in 2018, and due to be operational in 2019. I’m curious to see how many American jobs this deal will support.

Top 10 African Countries for Hotel Development

This is an interesting list of the top African countries for hotel development. According to TOPHOTELPROJECTS, Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria take the top three spots. I’m curious about those 12 projects going on in Cape Verde. Anyone up for a vacation soon?

Freedom Schools and Upward Bound Memories

I’ve watched this video of Ron Clark dancing with some of his students at least ten times over the past day.

It reminds me of Harambee at Freedom Schools. Starting off the day with a thorough turn-up is good for the soul.

I also think about the summers I worked at Upward Bound. Those were some amazing summers. The photo above is me learning how to pop, lock, and drop it.

Freedom Schools and Upward Bound were full of super long days, frustration, smiles, and progress. Good times.

Alright, back to the video, then back to work.

Reach, Inc: Building a Cycle of Readers and Leaders

There’s nothing like being around a bunch of really sharp students. This summer, I got to hang out with the participants in Reach, Inc’s summer program and share lessons I have learned building Afara Global. 

Reach, Incorporated is a DC-based organization that trains teenagers to teach younger students. As a result of this training, the organization produces confident readers and effective leaders. From what I have seen in the time I have gotten to hang around the students, these young people are killing it. 

Along with the tutoring these students provide, they also publish children’s books. As if that weren’t enough, they research societal issues, find organizations working on them, and make pitches for their favorites to secure a share of more than $2,500 in grant funding. Like I said – killing it. 

  

The data on Reach, Incorporated’s effectiveness is strong. Imagine tutors entering Reach’s program reading between a 4th and 6th grade level, achieving two grade levels of growth in  one year of participation, while contributing to elementary school students achieving 1.5 years of reading growth. Amazing. 

Shout out to the Reach, Inc team – Mark, Jusna, Lori, Sully, and Kelly. I look forward to hanging out with the students again and supporting their work. 

Shoutout to JT for the photos. 

Mrs. Jones

The woman pictured above changed my life. Mrs. Jones was my 7th grade social studies teacher. My class was slightly rowdy, yet she always remained in control of the room. 

I started off underperforming in her class, more concerned with my pursuit of coolness. She pulled me aside one day and told me she knew I could do better. I’ll never forget the new feeling of wanting to prove her right. 

Thankfully, Mrs. Jones and her husband were home when I stopped by yesterday. It was great catching up and discussing their progress in launching a grocery co-op in the neighborhood I grew up in. The co-op has raised nearly $2million to begin operations. I’m excited about becoming a member and visiting the store whenever I’m in town. 

Since leaving middle school, I had tried to visit Mrs. Jones at least once a year, but hadn’t done so since college. To see her and her husband in such great health while leading the empowerment of my childhood community was a real treat. 

Thank you, Mrs. Jones. 

Nigeria’s Inclusive Growth Prospects

Credit: McKinsey Global Institute
Credit: McKinsey Global Institute

Last weekend, some friends and I hopped on a Google Hangout to discuss McKinsey Global Institute’s report on Nigeria’s inclusive growth prospects and what needs to happen for the country to realize that potential. 

Here is a quick rundown of some numbers:
 
40 million Nigerians are in the consuming class, but 130 million live below the Empowerment Line – an indication of their ability to afford eight household essentials for a decent standard of living.
 
GDP could reach $1.6 trillion by 2030. Investment in infrastructure could reach $1.5 trillion to support GDP growth and address road density being 1/7th and power generation 1/5th that of India.
 
Three things that stood out from the conversation:
 
1. Nigeria is growing in spite of the serious challenges it faces. We have seen the coverage of Boko Haram’s activity in the North and the 130+ days the government has still not rescued the girls kidnapped from their school. We have also seen the largest acquisition by a Nigerian company when Oando bought ConocoPhillips’ Nigeria oil assets for $1.65B. Nassim Talib’s theory of antifragility comes to mind – the notion of shocks, disorder, volatility driving gains. 
 
2. The skills gap in the country was troubling. The report states that 1 out of 6 of the world’s out of school children between age 6 and 17 are in Nigeria – 10.5 million children. Just thinking about the world’s population, I would think there are more than 60 million children not in school within this age range. Nonetheless, think about all the latent potential in Nigeria. Furthermore, the report highlights the poor quality of education. After six years of school, one out of five Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 29 can read and write.
 
3. Urbanization in the country was another interesting part of the conversation. McKinsey’s insights on urbanization not having the same economic effects as in traditional models was quite interesting. We discussed the rise of financing tools to get more people into homes and the potential risk of tools like mortgage-backed securities. 
 
Nigeria’s growth potential is real, as are its risks. The report had a lot of information and I am interested in your insights. What are some other things that stood out for you in the McKinsey Global Institute report? Shoot me a tweet with your thoughts.

West Africa Vocational Education Set to Disrupt Unemployment

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Nigeria has some of the most successful entrepreneurs across the African continent. Individuals like Titi Odunfa, Tony Elumelu, Adenike Ogunlesi, and Jason Njoku have made their mark across a range of industries. While these individuals may not call themselves social entrepreneurs, their motivation to improve the lot of Nigeria and its people comes through in their work. Tweet me @kwamesompimpong if you would like to argue this point.

Last week, I got to speak with Misan Rewane, a dynamic social entrepreneur who is bent on disrupting the high level of youth unemployment in West Africa. She and three co-founders hatched the idea for West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE) while at Harvard Business School. The idea led to a second-place finish at Harvard Business School’s Social Venture Competition and the team was off.

WAVE provides the hospitality industry with thoroughly trained interns and future employees. The company selects participants using an emotional intelligence test that enables the team to catch innate strengths. Participants in the program take on a 3-week 150 hour mini-MBA. WAVE developed the curriculum for the program in collaboration with top local and international employers in order to provide participants with the skills needed to succeed in the hospitality space.

The company uses a shared-cost model where the student and participating companies pay a portion of the cost. The student pays a portion when she starts the program and pays the rest of the cost when she secures an apprenticeship with a company, enabling her to earn while she learns. The company that brings her pays a portion of the cost as well.

The WAVE team aims to be training 25,000 people annually within 5 years, with academies located across West Africa. While the company is currently focused on the hospitality industry, the team does have its sights set on expanding to other industries.

Nigeria has to be one of the most frustrating and exciting country in the world.  Security concerns in the country have people in parts of the country looking over their shoulder with heavy hearts. The country imports so much food when it could be such a powerful force in the agricultural space. That said, this is a country that will be the largest economy on the African continent in a few years. Enterprises like WAVE will ensure that the people who enjoy this macro position will not be just a few. Because of them, the crowd that is bullish Nigeria will continue to grow.

I’m excited about linking up with Misan while in Lagos during the 2014 Innovation Excursion. Join us if you want to connect with talented social entrepreneurs focused on changing the fate of Africa. Let’s go!