Education experts from Eastern and Southern Africa meeting in Kigali this week have urged stronger collaborations between governments and the private sector in the region so as to help improve the quality of higher education and ultimately impact development programmes.
In particular, they called for alignment of university research with national and international development priorities, as well as stronger partnerships between the public and private sectors, especially in the areas of curriculum development and industrial attachment for university students.
This, they say, would allow for imparting of skills that are relevant to the needs of the labour market – at the tertiary level –, while institutions of higher learning would also undertake research that directly address issues of the community in which they operate.
The role of the private sector in the education system cannot be overestimated.
In recent years Rwanda has adopted a competency-based curriculum model as part of broader efforts to improve the quality of education across the various levels of country’s education system.
Previously, there was a huge disconnect between learning institutions and the industry, which ultimately resulted in an ever-widening mismatch between what is taught in school and the skills that are actually needed in the industry.
Nonetheless, there has lately been growing realisation that the private sector holds the key to quality education but only if the industry is actively involved in the process to design and regularly participate in reviewing the curriculum.
This approach has already been piloted in some courses under the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme and it should be replicated in the formal education system if the issue of skills gap is to be addressed.
It’s encouraging that academics are eager to work with the private sector to ensure that their students acquire the skills they really need and not just train them for the sake. Industry captains should seize this opportunity and work more closely with educators and learning institutions to make education relevant again.
Considering that quality education is expensive, it’s important that both sides work together to afford students the opportunity to have access to training equipment so they can graduate with the hands-on skills needed to succeed in the labour market.
The ever-rising rate of youth unemployment, including among university graduates, can be addressed if the industry and training institutions genuinely worked together on the issue of quality education.