Interview: A vision for the future of education in Africa

Professor Yusuf Karodia

Professor Yusuf Karodia, the founder of MANCOSA and of Regent Business School, two member institutions of Honoris United Universities, has been named African Person of the Year 2019 by African Leadership Magazine for his contribution to the advancement of education and the transmission of knowledge in Africa.

In an interview with How we made it in Africa, Prof. Karodia shares his thoughts about the future of the education sector on the continent.

1. How will the fourth industrial revolution change traditional approaches to education?

The fourth industrial revolution is built around the way digital communications, artificial intelligence, big data and the internet of things (IoT) come together to transform our world. It is rapidly transforming how industries manufacture, how financial firms operate, how we drive our cars, how we shop, how we make everyday decisions and how we consume media – it is ubiquitous, and it touches upon absolutely everything we do and how we do it. It is by default disruptive and as such impacts what we do at work and how we do it. Graduates, therefore, have to be prepared for this new world of work.

For educational institutions to continue to produce successful graduates for the future of work, they must align their teaching and processes with technological advancements. The revolution will impact the soft skills that students will need in the future. This means empowering students with the expertise and skills that are needed in a digitally transformed workplace.

In order to sustainably address the challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution, policymakers and education advocates in Africa need to embrace new, digitally immersive methods in higher education. Teaching pedagogies, curricula and activities must orient the student towards digital literacy, critical thinking, communications, entrepreneurship, and emotional intelligence – in addition to the ability to succeed in a highly mobile global workforce. Also, lifelong learning will become increasingly relevant in the future world of work because technological change will only accelerate, exponentially.

2. How is Honoris United Universities adapting to the fourth industrial revolution?

There is a growing number of higher education institutions in Africa sensitive to the need for rapid educational reform. Honoris United Universities is a leading example of a pan-African network that is wholly focused on creating programmes and initiatives specifically designed to prepare graduates for the 21st century workplace, which it does through a comprehensive strategy for employability and a teaching pedagogy based on collaborative intelligence.

Within the Honoris network, the Regent Business School’s specialist employability unit, called the iLeadLAB, aims to create a new breed of entrepreneurs with the skills, knowledge, and personal attributes to succeed in our challenging and high-tech world. Through mentorship and hands-on practice, especially using the latest technologies such as 3D printing, entrepreneurs will bridge the gap between theory and its implementation in the real world. They will learn how to set up and run their own businesses, understand how to apply digital solutions to specific business sectors, recognise opportunities and – ultimately – build powerful careers that are personally fulfilling and can positively impact tomorrow’s African economies and communities.

These are critical learnings because the modern global economy and jobs market demands that the individual is self-confident, mentally agile and able to problem-solve. In preparing students to adapt, to learn quickly and to be able to speak the language of innovation, we can develop graduates capable of flourishing even in a world of constant flux.

We have also introduced a co-op education scheme, for example at Université Mundiapolis in Morocco, whereby our students alternate between going to school and doing internships. This scheme allows students to spend time with employers so when they graduate, they have a competitive edge of professional experience in their chosen field, direct insights on how digital solutions are disrupting business and a mindset that prepares them for the challenges and opportunities that are abundant in the 21st century world of work.

3. What are currently the biggest challenges facing Africa’s education sector?

Access and quality are equally as critical in Africa. Research conducted by UNESCO shows that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. Almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school according to UIS data. This situation is likely to worsen if urgent action is not taken as the region faces a rising demand for education due to its fast-growing school-age population.

There is some good news though. A report by the African Development Bank, African Economic Outlook 2020, showed that the continent is among the highest spenders on education in the developing world, at an average of 5% of national GDP. At the same time, the private sector has played an increasingly critical role in promoting access to affordable, quality education. If this trend continues, we will certainly address some of the perennial issues plaguing Africa’s education system.

What is most important is that there is a concerted effort by all stakeholders in developing the next generation of Africa’s leaders and entrepreneurs through a well-conceptualised and well-coordinated education system.

4. Honoris has a vision of Education for Impact. Briefly explain what this means.

At Honoris United Universities, we educate for impact, which means we are committed to developing a culturally and professionally adaptable mindset within our pedagogical approach. Through an exciting range of programmes, including international exchanges and collaborative projects, Honoris faculty and students benefit from the sharing of academic practices, real-world expertise, and multi-cultural immersion.

In practical terms, our collaborative intelligence approach means bringing together experts, academics, and students to find solutions to specific challenges. An example would include a collaboration between the two Honoris network institutions of EMSI in Morocco and Université Centrale, in Tunisia to create a real bridge between the two countries, facilitating mobility between Morocco and Tunisia.

A recent example is the success of a world-class team of scientists, doctors, and engineers from across the Honoris that has developed a prototype for a new non-invasive ventilator respirator to help in the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic. The innovation can be quickly manufactured in different African countries and around the world using a 3D printer and materials that are cheap and readily available in most parts of the developing world.

Through initiatives such as iLeadLAB, we are able to equip students with the ability to utilise new technological tools to develop new industries and create innovations that have the potential to create new products and new jobs – and that make a meaningful impact upon the world.

Honoris has also recently announced a specialised AI Applications Lab in Tunisia, which provides students with an insight to the very cutting edge of how artificial intelligence is being applied to the world of work, thereby equipping them with the requisite skills to face a high-tech future.

Honoris continues to build and invest in providing workspace, access to resources, and centres for the professional development of its students.

5. Share your thoughts on the importance of life-long learning?

The reality is that not all our learning comes from the classroom. We acquire new knowledge and learn new skills every day either through socialisation, trial and error, or self-initiated study. The ubiquitous nature of digital technology necessitates intellectual adaptability and lifelong learning. Graduates from the Honoris network are fully aware of and prepared for a life of flux in the workplace.

Organisations are also seeing lifelong learning as a core component in employee development as a result of the fast pace of today’s knowledge economy. Employees and employers should be working in synchronicity to ensure that skills are constantly appraised, and businesses are able to adapt and remain competitive.

6. What are some of the approaches to take to heighten 21st-century learning skills through distance education?

Honoris is a leader in distance learning in Southern Africa. Good examples would include MANCOSA and the Regent Business School, which have empowered thousands of mature learners through access to affordable quality higher education via their distance learning programmes. These institutions have also enabled the network to act quickly in response to the emergency of the coronavirus pandemic. As distance learning leaders, our institutes and academics were able to pivot quickly and ensure continuity of studies for our students by moving weekend face-to-face instruction to online mode, and the academic services teams (our ‘Ask a Tutor’ facility) resourcing was extended to cover an increase in queries and extended hours of support.

Honoris’ commitment to distance learning is also evidenced in MANCOSA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a partnership with the Gcinamasiko Arts and Heritage Trust, MANCOSA worked with the legendary African storyteller Gcina Mhlophe to record 10 five-minute online stories to keep children educationally entertained for 10 days during the COVID-19 lockdown.

7. You were recently honoured for your contribution to the advancement of education in Africa. What does this mean to you?

I am sincerely grateful for my nomination and for winning the African Leadership Person of the Year Award for Education and Development earlier this year. I have been a dedicated teacher and a university lecturer for a significant part of my life, and the future of our continent – its economies and people – is something that I care for passionately.

I have spent over two decades pursuing new avenues to make quality education accessible to more people in Africa. During my career as an educator, I have had the opportunity to attend both national and international conferences and have also been privileged to have my research published in various international and local journals.

Through my foundation, I have also established the Million Books campaign, aimed at provisioning a million books within mobile libraries across Southern Africa, at under-resourced, deserving primary schools. For now, I am going to dedicate my efforts to improve education and improve the quality of life for all.