Education: A key to the success of the African continental free trade area (AfCFTA)

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represents an important milestone in achieving an economically integrated Africa and governments should invest in basic education and skills development, and strive for education reform that will facilitate the unimpeded participation of young people in the socioeconomic development of their countries.

April 06, 2021 by Rita Bissoonauth, African Union International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa
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3 minutes read
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A student taking notes during a class. Chinembri Primary School, Zimbabwe. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand
A student taking notes during a class. Chinembri Primary School, Zimbabwe.
Credit: GPE/Carine Durand

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is viewed as a welcome socioeconomic objective and represents an important milestone in the context of the Pan-African imperative of achieving an economically integrated Africa.

This agreement, which took effect on January 1, 2021, has the potential to fuel the socioeconomic transformation of Africa through industrialization.

However, the AfCFTA will live up to its potential only if the benefits of production and trade expansion are equitably distributed and the process leaves no one behind, in particular marginalized groups.

Some of the obstacles currently facing entrepreneurs are low literacy levels of African youth, lack of access to business training, lack of skills development in the technical fields, and insufficient access to technology and markets.

Investment in basic education and skills development is an important consideration for African governments. They must therefore strive for education reform that will facilitate the unimpeded participation of young people in the socioeconomic development of their countries.

The continent needs human capital with better 21st century skills to achieve its goals.

Investing in better-trained human capital

Technical vocational education and training (TVET), access to information and communication technologies, and skills development are critical for Africans to gain access to employment and move into professional positions.

The success of the AfCFTA will therefore depend on the capacity of African governments to tap into the potential offered by human capital.

It is therefore important that education sector plans include economics and entrepreneurship components focused on the appropriate skills—those needed by enterprises.

These components can also be incorporated into general or technical and vocational education with the aim of supporting the acquisition of practical skills and attitudes as well as an understanding and knowledge of the professions in different economic and social sectors.

Joint school/enterprise training

Formal TVET systems are not well aligned with market needs and rarely take informal workers into account. Work-study training programs could meet these needs at a time when skilled labor is in short supply on the African market.

This type of training involves schools and enterprises. Student training is based on a program that is jointly developed by these two stakeholders and is aligned with the country’s economic and social needs. The stakeholders play the same role and operate at the same level with a view to the professional development of students.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in a wide range of new jobs, which has led to a growing demand for professionals with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills in Africa.

Deriving benefit from a young population

Africa has an invaluable asset and a major comparative advantage relative to other nations: 60% of its population is under age 25.

Robust investment in quality education, with emphasis on STEM education and innovation, must be urgently made if Africa wants to position itself as the next global economic pillar and equalizer.

Increasing the number of young people and adults, particularly women, with the relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, required for employment and entrepreneurship calls for collaboration between member States and partners to make the AfCFTA a reality.

In conclusion, to successfully implement the AfCFTA and cushion the negative effects of the coronavirus on economic growth, it is important to support strengthening of the skills of the African labor force through technical and vocational training as well as STEM-based education.

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Financing, SDG 4

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