Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Eastern and Southern Africa region has seen significant economic growth in recent years, largely relying on agriculture and extractives. However, it hasn’t been able to keep up with the skilled labor demanded by the region’s required economic transformation for further growth. Surveys reveal that firms in the region now face acute challenges in developing research and development (R&D) capacity and filling technical and managerial positions – not just due to inadequate production of college graduates that have been rising over the years, but also due to low quality and relevance of current education and training at the tertiary level.
From my seat as an Education economist at the World Bank, I go through a number of strategies from countries and sectors in Africa outlining how best to achieve economic growth and development. I am repeatedly struck by a key question: Who will do it? Who will add value to African exports? Who will build? Who will invent? Who will cure? The answer is, of course, that graduates from African universities and training institutions should do it. But the problem is one of numbers and quality—there are simply not enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and programs are of uneven quality.
Agricultural transformation is a priority for Africa. Across the continent, the significant information needs of farmers—accurate local weather forecasts, relevant advice on agricultural practices and input use, real time price information and market logistics—remain largely unmet. To the extent that rural regions are typically sparsely populated with limited infrastructure and dispersed markets, the use of innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) overcome some of these information asymmetries and connect farmers to opportunities that weren't necessarily available to them earlier. Harnessing the rapid growth of digital technologies holds hope for transformative agricultural development.