6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Transforming the Education Sector to Meet Africa’s 21st Century Needs

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

On June 15, 2017, the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted a panel discussion on “Transforming the Education Sector to Meet Africa’s 21st Century Needs,” as part of the Brown Capital Management Africa Forum. The event featured three speakers, H.E. Professor Hassana Alidou, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Niger to the United States of America; Dr. Phillip Clay, Professor Emeritus and former Chancellor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Mr. Paul Mugambi, Chief Executive Officer, Kytabu. Together, the panelists examined African educational reform successes and challenges, discussed policy options for governments and international actors, and assessed how educational reforms could drive the continent’s development and competition in the global economy.

H.E. Ambassador Professor Hassana Alidou discussed the progress, challenges, and opportunities Africa faces in reforming all levels of the education sector. Ambassador Alidou stated that while children now have more access to education, the quality of education is not progressing at the same pace as enrollment. As a result, the Ambassador suggested that education can only transform the economy if students are equipped with skills that reflect the needs of the labor market. She provided several recommendations for Africa’s education reform: at the primary level, students must learn literacy skills, particularly through bilingual instruction and the use of mother tongues, to improve reading, writing, numeracy, and problem solving abilities; at the secondary level, education and curriculum reform should focus on training graduates in technical and vocational skills, priming them to enter the workforce and compete in various industries; and, at the higher education level, expanding access to two-year vocational programs will prepare more students with the skills necessary for the workplace. Alongside her recommendations for reform at the education sector’s three levels, Ambassador Alidou suggested that any reforms must utilize technology and thoroughly equip teachers in order to successfully ensure equitable and productive reforms that create a high-quality African labor force.

Dr. Phillip Clay posited that when looking ahead one generation, Africa faces two possibilities: a demographic opportunity or a demographic disaster. The suggested demographic opportunity entails today’s younger generation having grandchildren who are much more exposed to education and who are more capable of taking advantage of available opportunities, while the disaster would see the grandchildren of today’s youth not much better off than their grandparents. To ensure the demographic opportunity, Dr. Clay proposed a plan he believes will ensure that Africa’s large demographic dividend pays off. Dr. Clay began his proposal by asking the question, “What would you do if you had ten years and $1 billion (USD) to spend on higher education in three clusters in Africa?” This question highlighted his point that education reform is not principally an issue of resources, but is one of strategic planning. Using global success stories, Dr. Clay described ways in which Africa can capitalize on the available resources to ensure successful reforms in higher education. In particular, Dr. Clay indicated that Africa should focus on establishing a ten-year plan to create clusters of strong, independent higher education institutions that set a new standard on the continent. With a robust plan and the use of examples from around the world, Dr. Clay suggests that Africa’s visionaries should be empowered to transform Africa’s education sector at the highest level.

Mr. Paul Mugambi described the current education situation in Africa and the role technology plays in the economy, particularly in creating new jobs and employment opportunities, while rendering others obsolete. In discussing how technology creates a ripple effect for communities, Mr. Mugambi indicated the need for educational change to occur in tandem with social and technological changes to adapt reforms to the changing economy. This includes teaching social, technological, and critical thinking skills that resonate with changes taking place. To ensure education reforms do occur in tandem with technology, Mr. Mugambi discussed the importance of innovation. Through examples from his company, Kytabu, Mr. Mugambi described the need for developing innovative education models that leverage existing technologies for new approaches to learning, including using mobile phones and virtual reality. Further, Mr. Mugambi discussed the importance of competition and choices in the private sector and partnerships between the public and private sectors, both of which he believes will lead to further innovation that can transform the education sector. Finally, Mr. Mugambi argued that reforms must reward both success and productive failure, as there can be no successful innovation and reform of Africa’s education sector without multiple attempts that produce lessons learned.


Launched in September 2015, the Brown Capital Management Africa Forum provides a premier platform for substantive and solutions-oriented dialogue on key trade, investment, and development issues in Africa, and in U.S.-Africa relations. Convening business leaders and policymakers, as well as subject matter experts from the United States and Africa, the Brown Capital Management Africa Forum sponsors a series of public events designed to support the development of economic engagement and policy options that advance mutually beneficial economic relations between Africa and the United States. The Brown Capital Management Africa Forum is made possible by the generous support of Brown Capital Management.

This event will was livetweeted and webcast. Follow the Africa Program Twitter account @AfricaUpClose and catch up on the conversation.