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Designing the Future of Secondary Schools in Africa: Thoughts from the ADEA Policy Dialogue

By Josh Adler

How teens transition directly to work or income
It’s rational, but what stands in the way?

The Association for the Development of Education in Africa convened for the first time in Johannesburg on 29th and 30th July, 2019 to discuss, design and implement innovative models required in secondary education on the continent.

The two-day forum brought together key stakeholders with serious decision-making influence to share comprehensive education and training models that aim at empowering the youth with the necessary knowledge and tools for employability and job creation.

It was an honour to represent ALA and the Anzisha Prize as a delegate and facilitate some of the discussions between Ministers, educators and others. A personal highlight was the opening address by Honourable President Cyril Ramaphosa, who candidly and humorously shared that he would much rather be discussing the effect and potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) than the political issues he would have to tackle later in the day.

As someone in this space, it intellectually makes complete sense to move toward secondary schools being a (the?) platform for work readiness in Africa.

  • There aren’t enough tertiary institutions. We will never build enough, fast enough.
  • ALA and many others have proven that we can provide work-readiness and entrepreneurship skills during the secondary phase.

Here’s the rub though. There are some barriers to this all being possible that are really powerful, that I’m not sure we’re addressing as a sector or within the research.

One of the most powerful of these is the behaviours and expectations of parents (globally, not just in Africa) that are grounded in secondary schooling being a platform for entry to university, not work. There would be generations of precedent and culture to break down in this area alone. Parents would have to see hundreds of success stories of transitions from school to income without a tertiary step. Where are these stories?

ALA is working more and more in understanding the role of parents in the success of very young entrepreneurs through our Anzisha Prize program. I have seen personally the influence and potential of strong parent partnerships at all socio-economic levels through the pioneering work of my colleague Uzo Agyare-Kumi. We think the role and influence of parents in secondary education decisions and outcomes is increasingly absent from policy making across the board, and now call them the forgotten stakeholder.

There are other barriers. One of the panels I facilitated was titled “How do secondary education curricula and pedagogy need to change in Africa to deliver skills relevant to the future of work?” and it was a privilege to have the sitting minister of Education, Science and Technology in Malawi – Honorable Minister Banda – on the panel along with experts from UNICEF and AFDB. But he talked plainly about the power of the examination boards and decades of history and tradition around assessment at the secondary school level. How do we credential these new workforce-ready skills? Are credentialing entities ready to switch or augment their framing of success away from university access?

The overwhelming feeling I have is that some of our collective energy is focused on the wrong spaces to achieve skills reform at the speed we need. I think both supply (teaching/curriculum) and demand (employer/entrepreneurship) have a lot of energy around their respective reform trajectories. But these secondary power blocks – like parents and accreditation providers – require far more attention, aggressive behaviour change campaigns and lobbying.

I will be doing my bit.

[A quick note: If you haven’t read our first book that explores the role of parents in the future of work, download “Parenting the Boss”, which profiles supportive parent/child relationships across Africa for very young entrepreneurs.]

Josh Adler is Vice President for Growth and Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of the Anzisha Prize at African Leadership Academy