“Despite relatively high rates of economic growth and GDP per capita, Botswana faces key challenges of unemployment and inequality. The overall unemployment rate is deemed to be mainly structural in nature, and is driven by a mismatch between demand in the labour market and the available labour skill set. Reducing unemployment in the country would require adopting prudent public employment policies, including aligning, and making structural and content changes to the curricula for university, tertiary education and vocational training to meet the demand for skilled labour in the economy.” The above extract is KPMG’s Report on Botswana’s economy in 2014/2015. It seems all African countries have the same song for unemployment which is, the mismatch between the demand in the labour market and the available skill set, which they always blame on the content of the curricula at our schools and educational institutions. But the question is, who formulates the policies? It’s now clear that high GDP growth does not necessarily reduce unemployment rate of a country. It is not always accurate to use the growth of the GDP to measure the standard of living of people. So, the question will be, how do we link GDP growth to real economic development of a country, taking key human development issues into consideration? This will call for critical interrogation of what has led to the growth of the GDP by authorities and whether it is having the trickling and rippling effect on the general well-being of the people. So, one should look at the factors of production critically (Technology/humans in this scenario). Oftentimes, high GDP growth exposes the hypocrisy contained in “extreme capitalism”. There can be high rate of unemployment but a country can record high GDP growth as I have explained above.
Let us take a close look at our country Ghana. The economy recorded 8.5 % in 2017 from 3.6% in 2016. Now let’s do the analysis: the growth was influenced with coming on board of the Sankofa oil field which led to the increase in the volume of our oil production. Now, who are the players in this sector? Ghana’s Oil and Gas sector is controlled by non-Ghanaian oil firms due to the high capital requirements in this sector. The investors in this sector are largely foreigners so what this means is that the money they make does not stay here for our development drive. Due to the sophisticated nature of this sector, it employs only few individuals so what could help is the ability of this sector to create enough value chains through the local content policy to employ more people. But is that the case? Your guess is as good as mine!
The next thing is to manage our little revenue we get from this sector prudently. But is H. E. Nana Akuffo Addo’s government ensuring prudent management of the revenue in this sector? As it is now clear that no one can operate within this modern economy without Quality education, the government has decided to fund her ambitious Free Senior High School (FSHS) program with the oil revenue. But is that a prudent management looking at the current structural nature of our educational curriculum? Our governments over the years have consistently blamed our educational curriculum as the cause of our unemployment problems because of the mismatch created between the demand in labour market and the available skills. So, what this means is that we are pumping monies into ineffective educational system (the FSHS in this case), which eventually will produce graduates that will not fit into the job market, having heavy repercussions and worsening the case of unemployment. Do not forget that we are heading towards Artificial Intelligence era. Is Ghana and Africa prepared to withstand this revolution in 20/30 years?
Now, the way forward? Ghana must go for total overhauling of its educational curriculum at the basic and senior high school levels and shift focus from being writing examination one to skill acquisition one with special focus on these subject areas: English Language, Mathematics, Integrated Science/Technology, Entrepreneurship and Philosophy (Critical Thinking). To achieve these, among many, teachers are to create the conditions for their students to learn but not to just focus on teaching them. I advocate total abolishment of using written examinations as standardized test for all students. I propose that students are examined based on their areas of specialisation or interest which could either be written tests or project-based examination. The mode of examination can only be determined by student based on his/ her area of interest and not to be imposed by the teacher. Teachers then become facilitators in this case.
Again, we must decentralise our educational system and make it responsive to the needs of the locality/community/districts in which these schools are located. In this case, the Assembly’s education body becomes the examining body for the schools under its jurisdiction and do away with the centralised system, where WAEC in Accra decides the fate of students. Education must not only be free but compulsory, since one cannot operate within this modern economy without quality education. The government must enforce the compulsory aspect of the FCUBE, which must go with the structural reforms reiterated earlier. It is within this context that we can derive optimal benefits from this free education policy and confront the challenges of the 21st century. We must also quickly adopt production sharing agreement in the oil and gas sector to ensure that most of the revenue are retained here for our development.
Vice President, CEBSAR-AFRICA/Research Fellow and Head of Education, ILAPI-GHANA.