Education in Africa: A Story
Somewhere in the small West African country of Togo, there’s a village. In this village, hails a very wealthy self-made entrepreneur and I’ll call him The Man. He is a multimillionaire in US dollars. People who have some knowledge about the business circles in the country (and beyond) know who this man is; at least they’ve heard or read about him. He’s not a farmer nor a trader as one would immediately imagine. He has built his wealth in a capital-intensive industry.
Very frequently, he leaves the capital city to visit his village where he built a large residence. During these occasions, he receives many visitors, some of whom are village elders. Given his influence in the country, naturally he’s very much involved with village politics and his opinion is sought after. Some of his other visitors are mostly young men who come to see him to help them secure jobs in the capital city, Lomé.
Times are tough, the young men lament. “Even our brothers in the city cannot find jobs after completing school”. Sometimes, some of the young men, troubled by their situation, ask The Man to help them with money so that they can buy equipment and seeds to start farming because there’s no job in the city and the government doesn’t appear to be bothered by their situation.
The Man listens to each young man carefully and he invariably provides them with identical solutions. First, he buys them a farm machete and a bicycle — a machete so they can begin clearing the land they plan to farm on and a bicycle so they can get to their farms regardless of the distance.
He then tells them this: it’s true that the economy is bad and a job is difficult to get these days, but go to school anyways and acquire the skills you need for your career interests. Eventually, the opportunity will knock and when it does, you want to make sure you’re prepared to seize it. It’s better to be prepared now than later.
Of course, the young men grumble after they depart his residence and he’s labeled as “stingy” in the village.
The Man’s response to the young men has given me a bit to reflect on. First, on the bicycle and the machete. The reason why he offers the young men these tools is to teach them that succeeding at anything in life is challenging, especially if one is fighting against poverty all the while striving to achieve ambitious goals. His tactic here is debatable. In my view, people don’t have to struggle like we did in order to succeed. Instead, I believe it’s worthwhile to “smooth the path” for others so they quickly find success and pay it forward by helping others do the same.
But, I understand why The Man provides machetes and bicycles to young people who want to farm. It’s worth noting that he seriously toiled to become a multimillionaire. The Man was a high school dropout and eventually became a laborer for many years. Brick by brick, he mastered his skills and he grew his business piecemeal until it became his small empire. So, in his own way he believes he’s preparing the youth to deal with a callous world by helping them to begin their farming venture with the bare minimum that he never had.
Second, concerning his perspective on education, I tend to agree. Although unemployment is a major obstacle to the youth in Africa, young people should still have a desire to get educated. Why? All else being equal, an educated person is more likely to secure a job than a dropout. And bringing this into the context of the youth pleading with The Man for a job, as the job market gradually improves in Africa, educated people are in a better position to seize employment opportunities.
education is a solution that could solve the problematic of unemployment
Beyond the argument for securing a job though, education is a solution that could solve the problematic of unemployment in a very fundamental way. Education enables the youth to better assess the ecosystem that they live in (leaders, norms, events, etc.) and through this exercise, they can formulate adequate solutions to solve the problems in their communities.
There’s an empirical evidence for that argument. You would notice that in Africa, the stronghold of the opposition is often in the capital cities. One of the reasons for this is that by far, in Africa, the most educated people reside within the capital cities. Compared to their fellow citizens living in the countryside, the city people are more educated, more in-tune with the rest of the world, and more demanding of their governments. Generally, they’re not easily manipulated by a T-shirt and a bag of rice during political campaigns.
This is precisely why education is so important, not merely because it enables us to secure a job. A highly educated population is generally a participant in the country’s governing while an uneducated population is largely an observer. Perhaps this explains why some hostile governments aren’t really interested in improving the education system in their countries. The archaic curriculum of most schools on the continent is just the tip of the iceberg.
Another important reason why the African youth should still get educated despite a bleak job market is that entrepreneurship (the other route) is even more challenging than they can imagine, and the majority of a population cannot be made up of entrepreneurs. Most of them will end up being employees of a firm or part-time entrepreneurs at best. They must seize the long-term opportunities that education offers them and use it as a catalyst to self-education and development.
Finally, I dare say that in extreme hypothetical circumstances, there’s more hope for an unemployed, but educated youth than an uneducated and unemployed youth.