The mismatch between the skills young people have and the skills needed for future jobs widens as the demand for professionals with specific 21st century skills grows in the age of artificial intelligence. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this skills gap due to huge learning losses incurred during school closures.
21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity and digital literacy are necessary in today’s world of science, technology and innovation. African girls and young women need to keep up with the lightning pace of modern labor markets, if they do not want to be left behind.
Evidence is already pointing to large losses among girls, as they were not able to access continued learning during the pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum (2020), creativity is one skill that even artificial intelligence cannot replicate.
There is also a lot of emphasis on developing other soft skills such as communication, collaboration, self-reliance, and teamwork.
Additionally, over half of the job activities that currently exist today are projected to no longer be needed in 2055 according to McKinsey (2019). By then, Africans will comprise around 25% of the world’s working population (The Economist, 2020).
It is estimated that the continent will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion increase in the global population by 2050, ½ of whom are girls and women. Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with an ever-growing youth demographic, and an estimated 20 million new jobs need to be created every year to meet the increasing demand. Africa is at a crossroad.
Governments, policy makers and the private sector are still grappling on what the future of work will look like, how to close the employment gap and meet demand for skilled labor. What we do know is that we need to reskill, upskill and adapt to this fast-moving changing world, where one’s experience matters less than one’s ability to adapt and apply one’s knowledge.
Millions of African girls and women will be left behind if they do not get the proper education and training to acquire the skills needed for the jobs of the future.
The re-thinking of the African curriculum, with a focus on adaptability and creativity, are key for our young women and men to help them secure jobs in the future.
The African Union International Centre for Girls and women’s Education in Africa (AU/CIEFFA) leveraged the Expo 2020 Dubai to organize a session, with education experts, youth and civil society, on “Skills of the future: creating inclusive opportunities for all African youth” with a specific focus on girls and young women.
One of the key recommendations was that teaching and learning resources must be re-designed in order to respond to the needs of the 21st century, as very few teachers have the resources or insights on what such curriculum looks like, let alone ensuring gender-responsive teaching and learning environments.
Another recommendation was to include design thinking, engaging learners in hands-on activities, which will help young women to venture more confidently in STEM fields.
Women need to be motivated and encouraged to enter such sectors, including setting up businesses. This implies aligning education sector plans to developing 21st century skills including gender-disaggregated assessment tools to track learning outcomes for girls and boys.
There are many on-going initiatives led by the African Union, targeting youth, including young women to develop or upscale their skills, such as:
- (i) Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA), which provides funding to innovative employment oriented skills development projects, including a continental platform for knowledge exchange and private sector engagement;
- (ii) 1Million by 2021, including a component on educational skills development addressing skills gaps by providing alternative pathways, remote learning resources and tools;
- (iii) Pan-African University e-learning Platform offers young women and men across the continent opportunities to gain new skills or to upskill through various courses. The platform is open to all, and courses are offered for free. All courses are certified and young people can use these certificates to access the job market.
These initiatives offer an unprecedented opportunity for our youth to learn, unlearn and re-learn. However, even though these initiatives are very laudable, girls and young women from rural areas or from disadvantaged backgrounds are often excluded.
Social media and community mobilization are used for marginalized and disadvantaged girls to access such initiatives.
There is an urgent need to transform education systems to reach all girls and boys with quality learning opportunities for skills development.
Governments must revamp national curricula, adapt teaching and learning resources to the needs of job labor markets, and link apprenticeships through partnerships with the private sector, such as those from the above-mentioned initiatives, as part of formal education, whilst talking into account gender equality.
Teacher training must go hand in hand, where teachers through continuous professional development will be equipped on effectively developing these skills. This integrated approach will enable girls to develop 21st skills, prepare them for the future workforce and help mitigate against workforce disruption in the continent.
Article was first published on the Global Partnership for Education Blog Forum