In today’s globalized world, no country can thrive without a capacity to generate, transmit, and utilize new
knowledge. Put differently, today’s globalized economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers.
Much progress has been made in getting children into school and achieving parity between boys and
girls in African classrooms at the primary school level, and to a lesser extent at the secondary school level. But while rapid progress has been made in such basic-level enrollments, university enrollment has barely advanced, rising only from 4 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2007.
Even though African countries have generally spent relatively large proportions of their national resources on education, the stock of human capital with a higher education in Africa continues to be very low by international standards.
Besides, research shows more and more that it is cognitive skills and learning, not years of schooling, that makes the difference. The reason is that cognitive skills could foster innovation and promote technology diffusion by equipping the workforce with the ability to absorb, process, and integrate new ideas into production and service delivery. The areas of higher education undertaken by a majority of African students are not in fields such as science, engineering, technology, and business, as is the case in rapidly growing emerging economies of Korea and China, but often in social sciences and the humanities. The result is a skill mismatch—university graduates remain unemployed, while African countries continue to face shortages of skilled labor.
The good news is that the rate of return to skills is high in Africa. What is therefore needed is a big push
on quality education and skills, as was seen in Korea and other East Asian countries to underpin their growth miracles. The finding on the importance of cognitive skills for long-run growth should be a wake-up call for Africa, and should raise questions about the quality of the education now being provided.
The thriving telecommunications sector in many African countries can facilitate information transfer, knowledge, and learning. At the same time, tertiary education curricula and pedagogy need to be reformed.
The pedagogical approach makes a difference in the quality and effectiveness of entrepreneurship education students receive. Consequently, a partnership between industry and government on tertiary education should be formed.