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Africa Media Hub Director Speaks on the Role of Data in Enhancing Education

  Aug 25, 2017

It is estimated that Kenya will be home to 52.2 million people by 2020, many of whom will be under the age of 15. With a rapid population growth, concerns over the quality of education suitable for job creation, economic growth, food productivity and sustenance, have called for dialogue on the role of technological innovation in equipping the country’s youth with skills to contribute to the economic growth of the country.

A highly unskilled labor force has been identified as one of the factors contributing to the large unemployed demographic. Commitments to sufficiently meet the demands of a skilled population have called for school’s curriculum review to ensure that educational institutions impart applied technical knowledge for industry application.

Rosemary Okello Orlale, Director Africa Media Hub at Strathmore Business School addresses the role of predictive data in informing decision making in the education sector. Here are her remarks as captured by Case Europe, an international association of educational institutions  

How can interest and investment in African higher education be sustained?

Over the years, education has always been seen as the key to unlock poverty and to enhance development within Africa. It is against this background that each government within the 54 countries has a specific policy and Ministry focusing on education from early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and university. Even though a lot of investment which have been made towards education have been linked to resources and infrastructures, a lot still remains to be done. Five decades after many countries attained independence with all citing education as their key goal of focus, the problems surrounding the sector is still linked to access and quality.

On the issue of access, not everyone is able to access quality education in Africa. As in the case of Turkana County in North-Western of Kenya which is popularly known as the Cradle of Mankind; it is the largest County in Kenya which is bordering Uganda to the west; South Sudan and Ethiopia, including the disputed Ilemi Triangle, to the north. But the people living in the area are seven times less likely to access secondary education than an average Kenyan.

On the other hand, quality has never been given attention when it comes to education in Africa. Many countries are more focused with entry level and the illiteracy rate. As a result of this, little attention has been given to issues that can make quality in education become a reality such as the quality of teachers and also how the curriculum connects to the markets. Most of the higher learning institutions in Africa have taken education more of a business and have given little attention to the quality of the programmes they offer and their relevance to the market. Many experts argue that there is disconnect between what is being taught in many educational institutions especially of higher learning and the needs of local industries. The term “yellow notes” has been mentioned in relation to use of the same material from year to year by some lecturers and professors, caring less for the dynamic nature of knowledge. This has also been connected to high youth unemployment in the continent.

What are the current challenges African institutions and higher education leaders face and how does this impact the role of advancement professionals in Africa?

The challenges many African institutions and higher education leaders face are many. To cite a few, issues such as proper education policy which can unite the continent on giving an African grown education is lacking. This has made each country come up with its own education policy where such policies do not translate into effective planning for infrastructure expansions that respond to youth demographic growth. Lack of standardization of curriculum management within the continent especially in line with the quality and lack of using innovation to address the market is another challenge. There is also lack of public involvement in assisting African governments to develop guidelines for holding teachers and the education systems accountable in ensuring quality education. All these translate into lack of strategic planning, poor knowledge base, poor coordination with other actors and limited capacity. In addition, the majority of institutions in Africa are yet to introduce ICT education and knowledge.

The growth rate for student enrollment in Africa is the fastest in the world. How are governments and institution leaders preparing the youth in Africa for jobs upon graduation?

The enactment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 saw a dramatic increase in the enrollment of primary school aged kids. However, cases of high school drop-outs have also been on the increase among girls especially in secondary level of education.

Through proper education, the youth are considered a key asset in defining systems of economic transformation that respond to the needs of the majority. However, for this to happen the following needs to be taken into consideration: (i) ensuring that institutions of higher learning enhance the skills development in the youths by providing opportunities where they can participate in economic ventures, (ii) provide skills and knowledge to build young people’s capabilities (iii) Strengthen the mid-level colleges and technical institutions to bridge the gap and produce vibrant workers keen to contribute to the economy, (iv) bridge the academia and markets through research to inform the market growth, the structure of the economy and capacity to create and expand jobs necessary to absorb the young people ready for employment.

Why is using data for decision making important for educational improvement?

The demand for data-driven decision-making, especially for the achievement of Africa’s commitments to development progress has never been in the fore-front than now. The time is ripe for the continent to harness the data revolution. By using robust data from government sources, private sector and civil society to shape the education sector in the region, data can empower decision makers to make effective timely decisions. By also having an open data on education for the continent, this can further deepen the shared understanding of the potential and practice of its usage, build capacity and empower decision-makers.

With an Open Data for education, the continent can create a platform for decision-makers to share strategies and innovative approaches that have worked, and lessons learned on how to rally public service to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. It can also be used to create a knowledge hub of education that can bring institutions of higher learning in Africa to be used as an access to give practical guide and support to each country using Data to review existing policies, curriculum and offer suggestions on actions needed to be taken to improve education systems.

What are some of the initiatives you’re working on at Strathmore Business School?

Strathmore Business School provides training programs on business, public policy, healthcare, education and has a special project department which includes an agribusiness program. Strathmore is more than an academic institution but also develops practical applications, provides a platform to target today’s challenges and links parties. Under the public policy department there is the “Africa Media Hub” (previous Bloomberg media initiative) which I am now the Director.

The Africa Media hub has the following units (i) Centre for Finance and Business to enable experienced journalists and communication experts to carry in-depth reporting and investigation, data analysis and experts coverage of critical issues related to business and the global economy using data visualization journalism; (ii) The Data Center and Innovation Lab to create catalytic actions and initiatives to ensure the development and uptake of innovations and implementation of data ecosystems that can improve government engagement/public service delivery and spur economy growth that benefits African Governments, its young entrepreneurs and industry. In collaboration with the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development, Governments of Kenya, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Sudan, as well as academia, private sectors, and innovators, the Lab aims at strengthening the capabilities of public sectors in a manner that is responsive to citizens and ensures equitable delivery of economic and democratic policies and standards, by leveraging on the innovative power of young women and men.

One such area that we will be focusing on in the coming months is the area of Agriculture where we plan to partner with the Government of Kenya to develop data based content which are relevant to farmers and package them in a manner they can understand and disseminate the information using technology applications. Using the incubation and Data Knowledge centers as sources of information to policy makers, farmers and key opinion shapers in the sectors, we aim at producing citizen driven information and Data products for market analysis i.e. financial access and relevant information the farmers may need.

We believe that Data Revolution has the potential of creating a movement which can improve transparency, accountability, citizen participation and economic opportunity. As an institution, we see our role in providing effective research for sectors such as agriculture for policy development.

We therefore plan to start a Master’s Programme on Agri-Business and on Data Analysis which will continue to create capacity among young people and provide experts for the sector thereby ensuring sustainability; and also, to develop professional skills among the existing and up-coming journalists, communications experts and other professionals in providing in-depth data analysis, ambitious experts’ coverage of critical issues related to the global economy and business using data visualization.

“Data Revolution” needs to make sense to the ordinary person and create new rules, data standards, roles, alliances that break old barriers for the majority of people in Africa. Above all we plan to widen our partnerships and networks.


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