By Patrick Kagenda
A two day forum organized by the World Bank ended March 13,2014 in Kigali Rwanda where the World Bank,in collaboration with H.E. Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, hosted the forum with a theme Higher Education for Science, Technology and Innovation: Accelerating Africa’s Aspirations.
The high level event that was telecast live via www.livestream.com/worldbankafrica, brought together ministers of education and higher education, and experts from the academia and the private sector.
The forum highlighted the critical role that science, technology, and innovation can play in shaping Africa’s future in the 21st century, and drew attention to priorities and solutions as countries seek to upgrade their higher education systems.
During the forum it was agreed that High quality university programs in Africa, particularly in areas such as the applied sciences, technology, and engineering, could dramatically increase the region’s competitiveness, productivity and growth, as well as enable economies to diversify away from today’s heavy reliance on natural resources extraction.
However strategic reforms are needed to expand young people’s access to science based education at both the country and the regional level, and to ensure that they graduate with cutting edge knowledge that is relevant and meets the needs of the private sector.
The forum was hinged on the discovery of high value minerals in Africa that include Oil which has given Africa a window of opportunity to enlarge the economic benefits from its booming oil, gas, and minerals industries. However the lack of specialized expertise is a major bottleneck obstructing the potential for more well paid jobs and home grown supplier companies.
The skills shortages that exist both in terms of numbers and quality, particularly within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields) are somewhat affecting Africa`s performance. The forum highlighted the need for establishment of public private partnerships and regional centers of excellence as key to building the required specializations.
As much as African countries are now focusing on the extractive industries, agriculture is still seen as an engine for overall economic development. In Sub-Saharan Africa it contributes 32 percent of gross domestic product and 65 percent of employment.
The forum noted that growth in agriculture is twice to four times as effective in reducing poverty as other sectors but is held back by a lack of qualified professionals. The low level of human capital in Africa’s agricultural sector remains a significant constraint to growth, poverty reduction, and food security on the continent.
This is because Agricultural education has been neglected for several decades and is poorly prepared to address the need for qualified professionals which has led African ministers and leaders to ask for “a radically new approach” to agriculture education, as the current system is out of step with the job market.
The World Bank is already supporting 10 African countries as they train workers for the extractive industries and is supporting African leaders as they seek ways to transform higher education so that it produces entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, and business leaders who contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction.
The main Speakers at the forum were H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and Makhtar Diop, the World Bank Vice President for Africa.
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