Human capital is fundamental to any form of innovation. Luckily for Africa, human capital is its greatest resource. Education is an investment in this huge strategic resource if Africa is to play a central role in the global information society. This is one of the key messages emerging from the ongoing Open Innovation Africa Summit (OIAS) which opened in Kenya’s Rift Valley this Monday.
The first-ever Open Innovation Africa Summit brings together over 200 thought leaders and innovators from 25 countries across the world to stimulate critical thinking about the role of innovation in sustainable socio-economic development and to contribute to creating a conducive environment for innovative entrepreneurial activity in Africa. The Summit intends to generate actionable ideas and recommendations for the gathered public policy specialists, researchers, academia, entrepreneurs, government representatives, ICT experts and financiers to take forward in their respective contexts for positive social impact.
The role of education in innovation is one of the most engaging topics that delegates at the Summit are deliberating. The aim is to develop actionable points on how education can inspire, tap and scale into creativity, inquisitive thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset to spur the innovation that Africa needs to thrive socially and economically. Since 1990, the pivotal role of education has gained recognition globally through the Education for All movement – a global commitment to build relevant skills and human capital of children, youth and adults, no matter how poor or remotely located. Education for All is one the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are set to be achieved by 2015.
Rigid education systems and lack of a feedback loop between schools and innovation enterprises have been discussed in the Summit as some of the major education challenges facing the continent. Purely exam based-assessments have also been termed as ineffective and outdated, while the obvious shortage of schools, learning facilities such as laboratories and libraries, and the low teacher-pupil ratios are further barriers to effectiveness in the sector. While some countries have made significant strides in ensuring education for all and improving literacy, there is still a gap in skills development for formal and informal learning and lifelong skills-building, and the connections between education and policy are weak.
The Summit has also featured rich discussions on the use of mobile technologies to accelerate progress towards the six goals of “Education for All”. Thought leaders in the ICT sector have often considered mobile phone technologies as a wasted resource in “Education for All” policy and advocacy. This is especially considering the increasing orientation towards new media and astounding growth of mobile handset penetration on the continent. Africa is a book-poor but relatively mobile-rich society; while only about 7% of schools have a well-stocked, functioning library, mobile handset penetration is between 45-50%. As such, mobile learning (m-learning) presents a huge potential for both learners and educators in Africa. The introduction of m-learning and other contemporary approaches to education begs the question of content for Africa – what are the possibilities for the continent to generate local and affordable content that is relevant in the global context?
Some of the recommendations emerging from this theme of the Summit titled “Human Capital – Education for All: developing skills using technology” relate to the need to develop a flexible education environment to foster and facilitate progressive learning, experimenting, innovation and keeping up with global trends. Africa should develop holisitic ICT for Education policies to harness the power of the numerous emerging new technologies as well as to participate in the development of new technologies for better learning.
Three other thematic discussions are taking place at the Summit namely:
- African Innovation Ecosystem: enabling innovation for sustainable socio-economic development
- Technology Platforms: leveraging technology to deliver public and private services to the underserved is one of the key themes for discussion at the Summit. This dialogue will be taking place alongside three others on:
- Emerging Business Models for Serving the Poor: building African success stories