TO say that the Internet is an amazing invention now sounds like a banality. This is because it has been around long enough for all of us to agree that indeed it is. However more innovations continue to make it a more worthwhile experience. For example, thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, one is now able to virtually attend a conference or an event by simply following a particular hash tag.
Because of these new possibilities, over the weekend I found myself (virtually) in Dakar, Senegal attending the Mo Ibrahim Foundation governance weekend where Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu was honoured. All I had to do was sit here in Kigali and follow all tweets that had the hash tag #MIFDakar.
The conference focused on the issue of Africa’s massive population of young people and the glaring problem of unemployment. There is no doubt that Africa currently has the most youthful populations with the average age hovering around 19.
Many times this statistic is glorified to imply that we are better off than the west where in many countries the youth are few and burdened by the cost of supporting the elderly. However those who prefer to glorify things this way are more likely to also choose to throw a blind eye to the fact that the young have nothing much to do that can be considered productive.
This means that they are a huge challenge and a powder keg for some countries as we saw in the Arab Spring countries of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya among others. Idle and restless youths are a major source of instability for sitting governments that many not be in position to engage them in meaningful activities.
During the conference, the point was echoed by Hadeed Ibrahim, the 29-year-old daughter to Mo Ibrahim and an executive director of the Mo Ibrahim foundation. “Africa’s youth are more educated than their parents but less employed...” she pointed out.
Ex- Nigerian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo added another angle to the problem when he said, “My generation had more opportunities than facilities; your generation has more facilities than is has opportunities.”
The participants at the Dakar conference seemed to agree that indeed there was a fundamental problem as far education systems are concerned. Something needs to be done urgently to address issues in the system to make it more relevant to current realities. While at it, other aspects like job creation, mentoring, access to capital and platforms for the youth to be heard should also be part of the whole package.
We need to steer our education system away from the certification craze where students are in it just for the sake of getting a piece of paper showing they completed and probably passed. The focus should be on imparting skills that they can apply instead of those skills they only have on paper and use to apply for jobs.
It is also very important for the youth to get as much mentoring as possible. This can be in form of regular career guidance in schools or having employers who are ready to give them a chance instead of always insisting on years of experience that they obviously don’t have.
It is bad enough that our education system churns out more job seekers than job creators. However employers ought to be flexible and not insist on years of experience each time they advertise a job. Apprenticeship and internship is another avenue that should equip the youth with the skills they need to be more productive people in society.
The antidote for the growing unemployment among the youth is to encourage them to acquire skills and put them to use when offered an opportunity. We need to mentor them to do what we are doing already. After all sharing knowledge skills and attitudes is the only sure road to immortality. Good luck to those sitting final exams.