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Adapting Chinese solutions to Africa

Updated: 2015-01-22 (chinadaily.com.cn)
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By Christian Kingombe (China Daily Africa)

Job training and agricultural modernization are two areas in which China's successful policies can help generate local solutions

Technical and vocational skills development is considered a way to develop appropriate job competency and thereby improve labor supply and the employability of the workforce. Consequently, developing these skills has assumed some prominence in the fight against youth unemployment.

Between 7 and 10 million unskilled African youth annually enter labor markets characterized by high unemployment, low productivity and income levels that are below a living wage. Furthermore, African economies suffer from "jobless growth" as the recent high GDP growth rates largely have been driven by capital-intensive sectors and higher commodity prices.

In order to address this serious socioeconomic challenge, African governments need to address the following areas:

Technical and vocational skills development must respond to the demands of the formal and informal economies, especially to ensure that the supply of skills contribute significantly to Africa's industrial growth.

Originally modeled on the French school system, technical and vocational skills development in many Francophone African countries has often not fully taken into account the possibilities of traditional apprenticeships for meeting the needs of the artisanal sector.

It has been estimated that around 90 percent of the skills are acquired outside formal training, but these skills are still not recognized and accredited, neither nationally nor regionally through a common quality assurance framework. Moreover, in many countries vocational training is still an undervalued "second chance" part of the education system, despite strategic plans considering it to be a critical means of improving the economic and social situation, especially for youth, women and other vulnerable groups such as rural dwellers.

Over the past 20 years, private technical and vocational skills development provision has been steadily growing. The dominance of private providers has implications for training quality assurance and the appropriate placement of graduates in the world of work. Nevertheless, training in partnership with the private sector favors hiring, especially of young, inexperienced graduates, often because the curriculum is aligned to market needs.

Diversified and sustainable funding sources are needed. It is equally important to improve the efficiency of service delivery. In terms of public resources, formal technical and vocational skills development delivery is around five times as expensive as the delivery of general secondary education.

The appearance and advance of the new emerging market development partners in Africa has led to a tremendous diversification in the sources of international aid. As an important emerging donor, China now plays an important role in the development of African countries through South-South cooperation.

However, the nature and purpose of China's aid in the educational field still give rise to curiosity. Rather than, for example, pursuing the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal aimed at universal primary education, China is creating its own approach to human resources support for African countries, with a distinct focus mainly on higher and vocational levels of education.

For more than 50 years, education has been an important part of Sino-African cooperation. However, education did not become a priority until very recently, when educational cooperation was perceived to be the key to the sustainable development of Sino-African political and economic cooperation under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

More than two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa's population is employed in agriculture. Of great relevance to this are developments in China, where great strides have been made in agriculture over the past three decades.

In China, agricultural progress and policy changes were key drivers of economic growth and development during the country's reform and opening-up drive. Especially since the 1990s, this Asian powerhouse has achieved significantly higher agricultural yields based partially on the wider application of agricultural research and technologies. This "farming revolution" was largely related to technological developments (seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides), infrastructure development, financing and investment, and management-related skills.

China has been active in offering agricultural assistance programs for the past five decades through more than 200 agricultural cooperation projects in more than 40 countries since the 1960s. During this period more than 10,000 agricultural experts and technicians were reportedly dispatched to train local African farmers.

Since the establishment of FOCAC in 2000, the emphasis on agriculture in the Sino-African relationship has intensified. The focus has been increasingly placed on the creation of 20 agricultural technology and demonstration centers that will focus on technology and skills transfers, a key component of China's agricultural sector progress.

Of special interest to Africa is that China's overall political and macroeconomic package enabled the agricultural policy to realize its objectives in the economy. This in turn fostered investment in the agricultural sector, specifically in agricultural technologies.

But while China-specific lessons can be applied to Africa, challenges exist to put new technologies and Asian Green Revolution development pathways into operation. The reason for this often is the absence of much of the necessary complementary policies such as prices, infrastructure and agricultural credit.

The author is the chief regional integration officer at African Development Bank Group.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/16/2015 page10)

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