The purpose of education is not only to prepare for the future, but also to build the future. The type of education we provide to our youth is a reflection of what kind of future we want to live in. At Engineer Africa, we envision a future where Africa is strong, independent and a true world leader.
We believe that technology is the key to realizing this vision. This means that to build the best possible future for Africa, engineers and engineering will need to play a growing role in African education. Engineers can do more than support Africa’s industrialization and infrastructure; we can support the quality and effectiveness of education in Africa in many other ways.
Fostering Problem Solving Skills and Critical Thinking
At Engineer Africa, we recently interviewed a number of CEO’s of African startups for a book exploring critical issues and their relation to engineering (you can download the book here). In our conversations with these business leaders, one of the problems that came up was the mentality of many recent graduates in Africa.
Regina Honu, the CEO of Soronko Academy in Ghana, commented on this issue during our interview:
“I mean, based on our education system, we are just trained to pass exams. The struggle is in critical thinking, that problem solving piece.”
One of the best ways to improve problem solving and critical thinking skills is through practical experience. Opportunities for practical experience are currently lacking in many African universities, and more emphasis is placed on a passive learning style. Engineer Africa strives to involve students in projects so that they have opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge and experience an active and dynamic learning environment.
Restoring African Education
Part of this predicament is a result of importing educational models from outside Africa. During the colonial period, education was set up to train workers who would take orders from colonial governments. Critical thinking, or “thinking outside the box,” was not built into curriculums, and the connections between industry and higher education were not developed (for more on this, I recommend Clemente Abrokwaa’s work on the subject).
A rich educational tradition existed in Africa before the arrival of European educational models. These traditions placed heavy emphasis on apprenticeships and practical skills that were well-calibrated to local conditions. With the restructuring of African economies, many of these traditional institutions fell into decline.
One of the major problems with education in Africa today is that the skills production does not match the demands of the labor market. Education in Africa must be more responsive and sensitive to the local conditions and development needs. Another major issue is the lack of qualified faculty.
This is why Engineer Africa is working to build connections between the African diaspora and African students. More involvement by African engineers and professionals can help to alleviate these problems and move towards new modes of education which are fine-tuned to both the cutting edge of technological development, and the unique context and opportunities in Africa.
E-learning: Leveling the Playing Field
E-learning has the potential to be a great equalizer for education in Africa. In the past, lack of access to books was a major impediment holding back African students. Many students were unable to afford books, and even for those who could, access to quality materials was very limited.
As we move further into the digital age, these barriers are dropping. Students can now access world-class materials at a very low cost. Lectures from leading experts are readily available to anyone with access to an internet connection.
Much progress has been made in terms of connectivity, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Many more Africans have internet access than a decade ago, but many are limited in the amount of data they can access and bandwidth. High quality connections are required for many e-learning applications, especially real-time communication.
Building internet infrastructure, configuring networks, and setting up e-learning software environments are all tasks in which engineers from the diaspora can assist. Engineer Africa is committed to working with a range of organizations to enhance their technical capacity to deliver e-learning solutions across Africa.
Building Africa’s Human Capital
It’s well known that Africans in the diaspora support Africa with financial capital — billions of dollars in remittances are sent to Africa every year. In the course of establishing Engineer Africa, we also found that many professionals in the diaspora are also very interested in supporting Africa with human capital, including knowledge, experience, skills, and connections. Although numerous diaspora professionals want to help in this way, there are currently very few ways for them to do so.
Engineer Africa is stepping in to fill this gap and open up avenues for diaspora professionals to virtually participate in projects in Africa. We are currently developing a web platform where African professionals in the diaspora can collaborate with students in Africa on engineering projects that have a positive social, economic, and environmental impact. This collaboration enables the transfer of vital skills.
This can be a great way to share knowledge and perspective on engineering, but it can also be a way to teach other important “soft” skills like work ethic, attitude, and teamwork. Transferring this human capital can be even more valuable than financial assistance in the long run, because it can give African youth the confidence and ability to develop homegrown solutions to persistent problems.
Raising a Generation of African Leaders
Technology is opening many new frontiers where Africa can excel, and the field of education is one of the most promising areas in this regard. Taking advantage of these opportunities will require increased engagement by engineers in African education. Engineers are needed both to help ensure that these opportunities are accessible to as many Africans as possible, and to educate the next generation of engineers.
African engineers have valuable perspective on how to overcome the unique challenges of African contexts when it comes to building educational infrastructure. They also have deep insights into the skills future engineers will need to build a better Africa. This is why education and building links between the African diaspora and educational institutions in Africa are major priorities for Engineer Africa.
To learn more about our efforts in the field of education and many other areas, you can download our book for free here.