Africa and the Education Post-2015 Agenda: what roles for competencies and skills development?

Since 2008, ADEA has embarked on reshaping the debate on the role of education and training in socioeconomic development. The Association began first by underscoring the importance of post-primary education at the time when many thought it was too premature given the unfinished business of Universal Primary Education (UPE). At its 2008 Biennale in Maputo, Mozambique the Association advocated for a holistic, integrated and diversified education system where post-primary education is defined as “not only about what follows after primary education, but also about the reconsideration of ‘primary’ education as it is currently structured”. Two major paradigm shifts were proposed:  (i) shifting from UPE to an extended and expanded 9-10 years Universal Basic Education (UBE) and (ii) shifting from post-primary education to post-basic education and training (PBET)[1]. ADEA expounded the two paradigm shifts and provided strategic directions for UBE and PBET development through an indicative policy framework. 

In varying degrees, the UBE-PBET agenda was also reflected in the African Union’s Second Decade of Education in Africa, UNESCO’s Basic Education in Africa Programme (BEAP) and the World Bank’s SEIA initiative. But how many countries have followed this path?

ADEA continued on to address the relationship between education and training and sustainable development during its 2012 Triennale in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  It proposed three other paradigm shifts[2]: (i) shifting from decontextualized learning to the development of core competencies for problem-solving and citizenship; (ii) shifting from TVET to TVSD to democratize and make training relevant to African labor markets dominated by the informal sector; (iii) shifting from an “ivory tower” tertiary education system to the development of scientific and technological knowledge and competencies for industrial development and integration into a globalized world economy. 

This skills development agenda was distilled and articulated in a strategic policy framework developed in the wake of the Triennale. The framework was subsequently endorsed by African Heads of State at their Summit in January 2013. ADEA is currently busy implementing this agenda through its 2013-2017 Medium-Term Strategic Plan

With this in mind, one does wonder what the contents of the final education post-2015 agenda in Africa will be. The good news is that there is once again[3] a clear indication that Africa poised to define its own development goals and education and training as part of this agenda. The African Union (AU) and its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) initiative for example have conducted wide consultations on the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda.  In May 2013 the Executive Council of the AU established a high-level Committee of Heads of State and Government on the Post-2015 MDGs Development Agenda. The Committee has identified four categories of priorities that the continent should tackle during the post-2015 period: (i) structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; (ii) innovation and technology transfer; (iii) human development and (iv) financing and partnerships.

Under human development and capacity development, the following priorities were set out:

  1. Improved quality of teaching
  2. Access to quality primary, secondary and technical and vocational education 
  3. Strengthened curricula for primary and secondary education to include life skills, civic, sexuality and reproductive health education 
  4. Higher completion rates at all levels of education 
  5. Strengthened linkages between educational system and labor market demands

The outcome document of the regional consultations on post-2015 (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, 2013) also advocated the promotion of the following education sub-sectors: pre-schooling, tertiary education and non-formal education.

Under innovation and technology transfer, which are closely related to tertiary education, the consultations provided the following priorities/objectives:

  1. Ensure that technology transfer is in line with each country’s development needs 
  2. Establish an African technological fund to support innovation systems within the context of sustainable development 
  3. Increase funding for research and development 
  4. Strengthen the science component of education curricula 
  5. Enhance utilization of ICTs

In view of the above, it is clear where Africa wants to go past the 2015 deadline for both MDGs and Education For All (EFA) and ADEA seems to have anticipated these trends in educational development in Africa by emphasizing competencies and skills development. The challenge now is how to reconcile Africa’s stated agenda and that of the international community.  There are indeed indications that the international post-2015 agenda might focus on isolated thematic areas at the detriment of the holistic approach taken by ADEA. The recently released 2014 GMR rightly poses the challenge of quality teaching and learning but does not put enough emphasis on the nature of the teaching and learning occurring in African classrooms and its relationship to problem-solving and sustainable development. The same thing can be said of access and equity issues which are indeed part of the unfinished business of EFA movement and UPE agenda but which now need to be addressed in a broader and articulated policy framework.

In summary, we would like to receive reactions to the following questions:

  1. What explains the slow implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) and the post-basic education and training (PBET) agenda proposed by ADEA and UNESCO’s Basic Education in Africa Programme (BEAP)? 
  2. To what extent could the skills and competencies development agenda find its way into the international education post-2015 agenda?
  3. What innovative financing schemes should Africa put in place given the dwindling financial resources from donors? Can the dividends of the current healthy economic growth rates in Africa be used to fund education? What can the private sector bring to relevance and funding of education?

[1] Post-Primary Education in Africa: Challenges and Approaches for Expanding Learning Opportunities in Africa Synthesis prepared for and lessons learned from the 2008 ADEA Biennale on Education in Africa (Maputo, Mozambique, May 5-9, 2008). By Wim Hoppers.

[2] General Synthesis Document Presented at the 2012 ADEA Triennale on Education and Training in Africa, February 11-17, 2012, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. By Mamadou Ndoye and Richard Walther.

[3] In the wake of the independence era African countries met in Addis Ababa to develop a vision for educational development. Conference of African States on the development of education in Africa, Addis Ababa 1961.