February 11th, 2014 | Vanduyse
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The pressing need for increased numbers of entrepreneurs and effective leaders across Africa is well recognized.
For example the United Nations World Institute for Development Economics Research studied the impact and importance of entrepreneurship for developing countries for a period of two years. Some key conclusions were:
“Finally, in the least developed countries, where aid dependency is high, donors have been shifting the emphasis in development cooperation towards private sector development. In many of these countries, including resource-poor North African countries, populations consist of many young people who see little prospects of gaining employment with decent wages. Promoting youth entrepreneurship here has become a vital policy objective of many development organizations and donors.”
There is a positive side to the picture – which is that across many poorer countries attitudes towards entrepreneurship are very positive, much more so than in many developed economies. However people and especially young people are often not equipped with the skillsets and attitudes to succeed as entrepreneurs.
Much current aid focuses on relieving the effects of poverty and there are strong moral grounds for helping countries where people are too poor to eat – we are not against this sort of support. However we concur that a country needs to lead and work its own way out of poverty. A key to this is the creation of a local class of entrepreneurs and leaders, who create decent incomes for themselves and employ other people. Africa needs to accelerate the development of local commercial leadership elite. Furthermore, these new leaders also needs to be prepared to take responsibility for improving the countries which they live in – therefore they need to be social leaders as well as commercial leaders.
Education in Benin and Africa in general
Benin, a previous French colony, has been known in western Africa as “le quartier Latin de l’Afrique” (the Latin quarter of Africa) for its excellence in educational standards. Education and especially higher education is seen as the doorway to employment and therefore to a better life. This being said only 36% of the students that participated in the Baccalaureate exam for high-school graduation in 2012 got the passing grade of 10 out of 20. Education is well regarded and highly desired by the population. Parents and children are ready and willing to sacrifice money and effort needed for education.
But is it working? The short answer is no. Most university graduates do not find employment after 16 years of schooling needed for a bachelor’s degree. Exact statistics are scarce, but interview research conducted with university students suggests a grim picture. In Benin more than 100,000 people attend a university, about 10,000 graduates per year however only 2-5% find jobs.
 Wim Naudé; Article – Entrepreneurs and economic development; United Nations University; http://unu.edu/publications/articles/are-entrepreneurial-societies-also-happier.html
This situation is not restricted to Benin. Laurent Kcodgoh Edgeweblime, professor of economics at the University of Lomé in Togo and advisor to the Institute recently commented on the fate of university graduates in his country.
“Most university training programs in Togo and Benin are not adapted to the human capital needs of their country. The unemployment rate in Togo is very high, between 35-40% depending on the sector. The average duration of unemployment among young graduates is 5 to 7 years depending on the sector of activity. Often the employment exercised by our students does not correspond at all to the training they received. Perhaps only 5% of graduates gain access to employment that corresponds to their qualification (there is no exhaustive investigation into the matter).”
The dynamics behind this are complex. The government, banks and large telecommunication companies provide the majority of formal employment; but these jobs are limited in number. In addition, many large businesses operating in Africa are not owned or managed by Africans.
Universities promote programs that are focused on a specific field of study and therefore prepare the student to become a specialist and an employee. Since the employment market is so small almost all the graduates are confronted to the reality that there are just not enough jobs that pay a decent living wage, and they are forced to accept something else.
As discussed earlier, a proper education system is a key discipline to combat poverty. Education and especially the higher education is the doorway to decent employment and thereby to a better life. However, in most African countries, similar to their economic and political conditions, the education systems are also in an unstable state. Lack of education leaves people at a level of self-demotivation and dissatisfaction. Lack of self-esteem, confidence and inability to think on their own hinders people from taking initiatives themselves to fight against poverty.
More than 50% of the countries in the African continent has a literacy rate less than 70%. The participation of children in education is fairly low in most of the African countries. According to UNESCO statistics of 2000, only 52% of the African children were enrolled in schools, being it the lowest rate of school enrollment in any region. Most common reasons for this are poor heath, malnutrition, lack of economic stability and lack of support and guidance from parents. When parents aren’t well educated themselves, they do not see the value of education and would not force their children to follow up. In addition, lack of facilities and resources for proper education also prevent the children from having a better education.
In early African culture, education was limited to preparing both young girls and boys to accept and adapt to their adult roles. This was limited to hunting, agriculture or any other traditional income methods of the tribes, and for girls – cooking and parenting. Things started to change drastically with European colonialism, which more or less replaced the indigenous education system with their own. Under their rule, schooling was focused at teaching and training African students to compete with people in other countries, in the fields on engineering, medicine, academic and trade. What the European colonialism didn’t understand is that unlike in Asian countries, where the European education system did do a significant job to uplift the level of life, in Africa it’s a far cry from success. There were more burning issues to be addressed before, or in parallel to changing the education system; such as poverty, political stability and health issues.
Hence, after several decades of post-colonialism, the African education system is still not par with at least the Asia. Certain countries, however, such as South Africa and Zimbabwe are exception to this, where the level of education is remarkably high. On the other hand, these countries are also wealthier and stable than most of the poor countries in Africa.
Compared to most poor African states, Benin has a remarkable education system. It may not be as advanced and organized as in South Africa or Zimbabwe, but has had significant improvements over the years, especially after the reforms carried out as a result of 2007 Educational Forum. The school enrollment rate has significantly increased since 1997, however still the overall literacy rate is as low as 40%.
The education system in Benin experienced major challenges since 1980s’ where towards the end of the decade, it was in a state of collapse. In 1990, the government hosted a national conference in education, where it adopted a national policy to improve education. It’s after that the major enhancements were made to the education system in the country. As of 2004 the net enrollment rate in the country was increased to 96%. The gender balance in the education also has increased since 1980’s. However, several challenges and constraints still exist, which need to be overcome in order to take Benin’s education level to a satisfactory level.