Point of View // 01.19.2011

Education as Development

Article by Mokete M

Education has played an important role throughout history in the rise and fall of civilizations both great and small. It was never about what, how and where they were taught but more so about the quality of their education system and the political and economic will of their leaders. In Timbuktu we have the first known African university. There, a strong emphasis was placed on how education would better serve the community and its people and most importantly, how future generations would be sustained.

Education reform, including innovation and development should be at the heart of a society that aims to make it and which refuses to be left behind. We have good examples to learn from among the Asian Tigers (Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea ) and Japan. Onus should be on each and every one of us to raise the bar and put pressure on the debate about education budget versus military spending, which many governments on the continent manage to increase annually despite scarce resources.  But the intervention must move beyond debates to action among the community on the benefits of an educated society, both today and tomorrow.

There are of course many issues to discuss when thinking about development challenges in Africa. A well-known report by the World Bank, titled ‘Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?’ (2000) discusses fact that a large number of development problems are concentrated on the continent. This includes a variety of issues from health, the economy, failing states and others. But at the centre of this discussion is how do we move our people forward?  how do we as a people heal and how can we best ensure that there is hope for future generations?

I do not aim to draw simple conclusions to complex situations, but highlight what happens when the well-being of future generations is neglected for immediate gratification and other ‘important matters’.  When education is not prioritised, the success of the next generation is jeopardised resulting in increasing gaps in wealth, opportunities and other benefits. True prosperity cannot happen when governments disregard investing in people.

Many years ago, a group of individuals that organized themselves into non-governmental organization dedicated a piece of artwork to one of the leading universities in South Africa, on it was written ‘…as a sign of faith to the future of the university’. This sums up the role and importance of education in developing society. Namely, that the investment and effort put into education reveals how committed a country is in safeguarding its future. Furthermore, the responsibility we bestow on institutions of learning and the support we give them reveals the faith and trust we have in the power of education to change lives.

There was a time in history when experts projected that the continent would  be among the top success stories in the developing world and would be in the same league with our East Asian counterparts. Yet something still holds us back and we find ourselves constantly unable to compete on par with them. Of course we are right to cite different backgrounds, political systems, economies and so forth, but still we can do more. We can invest in education and begin thinking of new ways to solve old problems. Maybe the problem is not that the world refuses to accommodate Africa, maybe the problem is that Africa does not prepare for tomorrow’s world which will be different than it is today technologically and economically.

The best way to start preparing for the future is through education at all levels. Effective learning starts at early child hood and goes through tertiary education where it can then be turned to address socio-economic needs. The solution isn’t just fixing a part of the problem, but going back and working on the entire system, making it sustainable at all levels.

One Response to “Education as Development”

  1. Aba says:

    I agree with completely Mokete! The unfortunate thing is that African governments don’t have the capacity to address the important needs that the Education sector is facing and that’s where the private sector needs to be innovative and step in to lend a hand. Thanks for this Mokete

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