Opinion: Education and economy in post-COVID-19 Africa by Jerome-Mario Utomi

Opinion: Education and economy in post-COVID-19 Africa by Jerome-Mario Utomi

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Editor's note: In this piece, a Lagos-based media consultant, Jerome-Mario Utomi, writes about education and economy in post-COVID-19 Africa.

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This piece stems from two separate but similar opinion articles. The first titled; Finding a vaccine is only the first step, no one will be safe until the whole world is safe by Professor Ngozi Okonjo-Iweale, a former minister of finance in Nigeria, and currently, the board chair of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and World Health Organization (WHO)’s special envoy on global collaboration to fight Covid-19, published April 30, 2020.

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Another by Mira Rapp-Hooper Samm Sacks, a Stephen A Schwarzman senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations reported April 17, 2020. And had as title; Technology Can Help Solve the Coronavirus Crisis If Government Steps Up. The Apps Are Coming, but Policy Needs to Come First

While Mira Rapp-Hooper Samm Sacks observed that the United States, by most measures, drastically underperformed in its efforts to contain and treat the novel coronavirus epidemic at its outset, the piece added that how it manages the pandemic’s next phase will determine how soon the country will be able to resume social and economic activity. Technology, the piece noted, has been crucial to such efforts abroad, and the same will be true in the United States.

For Ngozi, it is now abundantly clear that the world cannot fully emerge from its current state of novel coronavirus lockdown until a vaccine is found. Never before, she added, have so many lives, livelihoods, and economies depended so much on a single health intervention.

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But as scientists race to develop potential vaccine candidates, the international community must remember that the ultimate goal is not only to produce a safe and effective inoculation but to bring the pandemic to an end; such can happen only after billions of doses are produced affordably and made available to everyone, particularly those in low-income countries.

Opinion: Education and economy in post-COVID-19 Africa by Jerome-Mario Utomi
Health workers fumigating a place of worship
Source: Twitter

Aside from calling for collective action, the two accounts share a similar message. The issue and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic are by no means a political issue, it affects the survival of humanity and the solution calls for a new perspective and approach.

It is indeed; time to pay attention to the nations’ economy and education that promotes a new form of learning accompanied by technology or instructional practice that makes effective use of technology, encompasses the application of a wide spectrum of practice-including blended and virtual learning.

For one thing, I believed and still believe that as a continent, we are highly skilled and frequently very good at ‘single-loop learning.’ We have spent much of our lives acquiring academic credentials, mastering one or a number of intellectual disciplines that neither has a link with our industrial and global demands nor needed to solve real-world problems. This very fact ironically explains why the continent is often so unable at creative solution creation.

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Like the members of the Na.zi party of Germany who were in the 1930s and 1940s, considered extremely well educated-and their knowledge of literature, music, mathematics, and philosophy simply empowered them to be more effective Na.zis, but were still trapped in a web of totalitarian propaganda that mobilized them for an evil purpose. Likewise, Africa as a continent presently manifests a zone with well-educated citizenry who are misinformed and ill-informed.

The degree of ignorance demonstrated about the real and imagined cause of the coronavirus pandemic, the proliferation of fake news and propaganda that links the challenge to 5G deployment and the nation’s inability to remember that the world suffered a similar deadly pandemic-the influenza or the Spanish flu, which killed about 40 t0 60million people worldwide are but vivid examples of such failures.

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Besides, considering the fact that there is a complete stoppage of real-time teaching and learning in about 185 out of 193 United Nations recognized countries (including Nigeria) are shut arising from the threat of COVID-19 pandemic.

From primary to secondary institutions; and also, to higher institution, the social and mental health costs of keeping such a great percentage of the population of learners out of learning conclave cannot be only huge but remains a sign that the continent needs a renewed emphasis on redoubling its investment in ICT or digital literacy education.

For a very long time, there have been attempts to extend the notion of literacy beyond its original stage in the continent as the present understanding of education tends to encourage critical discussion but neglects the social diversity of literacy practices, retain a narrow focus on information, and made little impact to what students can produce through ICT skills.

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As different studies have shown, social and anthropological studies of print literacy have clearly supported the belief that true education cannot be regarded as merely a set of competencies that live in people's heads. On the contrary, it is a phenomenon that is only realized in and through social practices of various kinds, and it, therefore, takes different forms in different social and cultural contexts.

We can no longer confine our attention to the isolated encounter between the reader and the text or the teacher and the student. It is time to take account of the interpersonal context in which that encounter takes place and the broader social and economic processes that determine how such knowledge is produced and circulated.

The current global situation says something else on the economy. It gives tremendous opportunities and calls for economic diversification in ways and manners that reduce resource dependence and enhance autonomy which in turn enables nations to make better use of their resources, diversification help reduces financial risks and increases national stability that leads to increase survival chances.

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Achieving this feat will among other things entail first; Africa leaders’ recognition that unlike developed nations, “we are poor because we have a lot of market failures and because policymakers do not know how to get rid of them and have heeded the wrong advice in the past.”

Secondly, separate from acknowledging the importance of economic institutions that create level-playing-field, African leaders must come to terms that today; technological change requires education both for the innovator and the workers.

Take as an illustration of the arguments by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robbinson, co-authors of; why Nations fail-a book that the content will be useful to the present discussion. The United States could produce, or attract from foreign lands, the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Jeff Bezos, and the hundreds of scientists who made fundamental discoveries in information technology, nuclear power, biotech, and other fields upon which these entrepreneurs built their business.

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The supply of talent was there to be harnessed because most teenagers in the United States have access to as much schooling as they wish or are capable of attaining.

Now imagine a different society, for example, Congo, Haiti, or Nigeria (emphasis added) where a large fraction of the population has no means of attending school, the quality of teaching is lamentable, where teachers do not show up for work, and even if they do, there may not be any books.

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Regardless of what others may say, the truth going by the book is that the low education level of poor countries is caused by economic institutions that fail to create incentives for parents to educate their children and by political institutions that fail to induce the government to build, finance, and support schools and the wishes of parents and children.

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The prices these nations pay for low education of their population and lack of inclusive markets is high. They fail to mobilize their nascent talent. They have many potential Bill Gates and perhaps one or two Albert Einstein who are now working as poor, uneducated farmers, being coerced to do what they don’t want to do or being drafted into the army, because they never had the opportunity to realize their vocation in life.

The ability of economic institutions to harness the potential of inclusive markets, encourage technological innovation, invest in people, and mobilize the talents and skills of a large number of individuals is critical for not just economic growth, but in determining how soon Africa will be coming out of the shock-induced by the pandemic.

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