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Education, social innovation and economic growth

September 23, 2010

We are advocating that education should be titled more towards the world of work. There is [a] need to bridge the mismatch between the industry and [the] school. When the government talks about addressing the problem of unemployment, they should first of all try to train people with the right skills that the industry needs.

– Darlington Agholor, Director of Institute of Industrial Technology

This calls to mind Africa’s, and by extension Nigeria’s, must-do list according to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — she’s looking beyond the crisis and has a Big Idea.

  1. prolonged dose of even more rapid, job-creating, growth in order to catch up
  2. macroeconomic stability, good governance, external and regional trade openness, market incentives and decentralisation (things don’t fall apart when the centre holds less sway)
  3. invest in health, education, infrastructure and social safety nets
  4. increase productivity through labour-intensive manufacturing (Akin to Ondo State’s motto: Ise takun takun, ibukun repete (hard work brings plenty of blessings) B-)

Okonjo-Iweala reckons that:

Accelerating growth post-crisis is Africa’s biggest challenge with little if any room for error!

Why? Africa’s demography is the reason. It is the world’s youngest, fastest growing and urbanising population. She suggests Bric laying Africa through cognitive skills. Conditional-cash transfers and microfinance for students are social innovations that we can adopt to promote skill acquisition.

Okonjo-Iweala continues (the bold italicised words are mine):

[R]esearch shows more and more that it is cognitive skills and learning, not years of schooling that makes the difference to long-run growth. The reason is that cognitive skills could foster innovation and promote technology diffusion by equipping the workforce with the ability to absorb, process and integrate new ideas into production and service delivery. These cognitive skills are measured by reading, mathematics and science tests for students. A fairly recent survey article documents that cognitive skills have substantial and robust effect on economic growth which dwarfs the link between years of schooling and growth.

The good news is that rate of return to skills is high in Africa. What is therefore needed is a big push on quality education and skills, as Korea and other East Asian countries did to underpin their growth miracles. For this, partnerships among industry, government and perhaps even civil society in vocational and tertiary education should be formed.

The continent is vibrant and not simply a place of enormous need.” The simple point is this: skills plus investment plus access to technology can unleash growth in several productive sectors from agriculture to manufacturing and services, which would propel Africa to BRIChood.

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