Chris Lynch | Palladium - Mar 01 2019
Education is Key for the Youngest Continent: A Response to the Gates Letter

A group of students of Kaduna polytechnic, Kaduna. Source: Voices for Change

Palladium’s Chris Lynch responds to the Bill and Melinda Gates Letter, exploring how education will be key to shaping the future of the youngest continent, and the world.

One needn’t look far for news about the rise of populism, U.S. government shutdowns, Brexit, and big data breaches. While these issues shape our political and economic world, it’s easy to forget that in the coming decades there will be a new global influencer. Africa, a continent of 56 countries and some 1.26 billion people that on average make up the youngest continent on the planet, is on the rise.

"The median age is just 18. In North America, it is 35. And the number of young Africans is expected to rise in the decades to come."  — Gates Letter

As the rest of the world gets older, Africa is the youngest continent and growing, presenting both incredible opportunities and immense challenges. Education will be key in addressing this trend and Africa’s role in the future.

Opportunities and Challenges

Educated young people are the innovators of tomorrow. The way in which technology, green infrastructure, and social engagement can shape macro-and micro level influencers is incredibly powerful. For example, in Ghana, the Student’s Entrepreneurship Business Model is furthering entrepreneurial skills by investing in technical training institutes for young people across the country. Other technology incubators and innovation hubs are thriving throughout the region. Equipping youth with access to the right tools and education can help give future generations on the continent an increasingly powerful voice to face tomorrow’s challenges.

However, there is also an equally prescient picture which is much grimmer. This young continent is still by far the world’s poorest. Of the world’s 10 poorest countries by GDP per capita, eight are in Africa. More than half of the world’s extreme poor (making less than $1.90 a day) live in Africa. While many African nations’ economies have been seeing incredible growth, inequality, corruption, and lack of affordable essential services, such as education, still plague much of the continent. Even more striking, as the Gates Letter points out, is that the areas in which birth rates are increasing are in Africa’s poorest nations. Without affordable access to education, the cycle of poverty will continue, and these countries will remain the world’s poorest.

Nevertheless, there’s power in the potential of girls’ education:

"If all girls received 12 years of high-quality education, women’s lifetime earnings would increase by as much as $30 trillion, which is bigger than the entire US economy."  — Gates Letter

While one could write an anthology on this topic alone, this statistic highlights the role in which education, and particularly gender and social inclusion, play in a growing economy.

In Rwanda, women’s empowerment has been a central focus, and promoting gender equality and education has helped drive the country’s impressive 6% annual growth rate.

A creative programme in Nigeria uses radio and youth groups to dramatically shift the perception of women in education and the workforce. In fact, 3 million more young people in Nigeria have demonstrated positive actions and attitudes toward gender equality. Such perceptions can play a powerful role in supporting the educational and economic development of young women.

Bill Gates says: “Melinda and I believe that the right investments will unlock the continent’s enormous potential. Young Africans will shape the future of not only their own communities but the entire world.” These investments must include education to ensure that Africa’s future, and how it shapes our world, is increasingly positive.

Palladium manages the implementation of the USAID Ghanaian Student’s Entrepreneurship Business Model, West African Trade Hub, and DFID Voices for Change in Nigeria projects.