It’s all about youth

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, policy makers are paying attention to education and skills for youth. The coming crisis has at least four dimensions:  a large bulge of youth (the Economist); poor quality of learning in the primary cycle (WB); high demand for free universal secondary education; and a future in which non-formal employment and the gig economy remain the norm for most young people (CGD).

Embed this all in an uncertain future, one where the fourth industrial revolution threatens to make traditional pathways for economic growth through manufacturing and services difficult for Africa, and where climate change and conflicts will take their toll, and Africa has a youth challenge on a scale no other country or world region has faced in human history.

In Ghana last week, I had a special chance to look at these challenge up close. Hosted by CAMFED, I met with girls and young women supported to go to school and to engage in a range of leadership and community development activities. I also worked with an advisory panel on a report that the MasterCard Foundation will release in 2019 on youth, skills and secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here’s what I learned.

First, we must and can support the imagination and resilience of the young people themselves to craft their futures, and in doing so change the culture of schooling itself.  More prescient than the experts on the MasterCard advisory panel, the secondary aged girls I spoke with asked me cutting edge questions: will artificial intelligence replace our future jobs? How much will we suffer because our library has no computers?  Do you think free secondary education will help our country or will schools get worse? How does what we’re learning compare to other countries?

Remember these girls are selected for scholarships based on need, not academic merit. CAMFED’s model offers them training in budgeting, time management, leadership skills and community development. Alumnae of its programs become community “guides,” a fundamental part of the CAMFED ethos of giving back.  This community-focused model has been shown to be highly cost effective: for $100 USD, it delivers the equivalent of two additional years of learning to those children it supports with ripple effects to others at participating schools and communities.

At university level, I joined a room of young CAMFED women with an amazing range of propositional ideas about learning and the future of work.  Tagged initially as “poor scholarship girls” they told me they now sit in student leadership positions across the University Cape Coast. And they are using the leadership and self-management skills learned from CAMFED activities to identify problems they can solve – not tomorrow but today.  From retooling early grade learning by setting up literacy boot camps in primary schools to starting Ghana’s first network on mental health for young people, these girls are stepping up as social entrepreneurs – and creating pathways to a new economy .


The Economist on Africa’s youth bulge

REAL Centre’s evaluation of CAMFED’s cost-effectiveness

The World Bank (2018) report –  Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa.

The Centre for Global Development’s new brief on the informal sector, gig economy and the future of work in Africa


3 thoughts on “It’s all about youth

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience in Ghana Karen. I would love to learn more about one of the dimensions of the crisis in Ghana – the poor quality of learning in the primary cycle. I’ve been volunteering with Pueblo Science (link below) that offers professional development workshops for science teachers in developing countries to improve the quality of science education. So far, we’ve been working in south-east Asia and central America and the Caribbean. I’m not familiar with Ghana’s education structure and needs, but there may be a potential for us to make a difference.


  2. Hello Karen:
    I am a retired Canadian Educator residing in a small town in the Eastern Region of Ghana. I can tell you that from what I’ve seen, one of the factors identified in your article, namely: “poor quality of learning in the primary cycle”, I believe is largely responsible for the high youth illiteracy and associated problems. Poverty, overcrowded classrooms, lack of resources in schools e.g. computers, libraries, frustrated unpaid teachers – how much effective teaching- learning can possibly take place under these unfavourable conditions? My NGO assists needy students but the need is overwhelming!


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