One of the first impressions we have of Africa’s educational system is that it is “bad”. It appears, at first glance, that this assertion can hardly be contradicted. If we admit that we can judge a book by its cover (why not), then let’s judge African Schools and Universities by what they look like. And in most cases, they do not look very nice. If we look at the amphitheaters, the laboratories, the dormitories, the administration offices, etc., we’re allowed to believe that barely nothing good can come out of such a system where the majority of premises (facilities) are not attractive and well maintained!
To illustrate, let us imagine that we’re boarding a plane to realize that it is dirty inside, and not smelling good. It is likely that the reaction of most passengers will be or could be: is this plane safe? The passengers will then feel uncomfortable and this travel might be one of their worst customer experiences. That’s why it appears that several African students want to leave the continent in order to study abroad; abroad clearly meaning the Western World (Europe, the United States, Canada, etc.) as well as some Asian countries (Japan, South-Korea, China, etc.). Therefore, it would not be incongruous if one asserts that some African students are not leaving the continent, but fleeing out of the continent when they have a chance to emigrate. The reality, however, is that the vast majority of African students will remain and study on the continent.
- If we cannot deny that African universities do have serious challenges to overcome, it would be unfair to believe that nothing works in African universities -
Now, let’s try (why not), not to judge a book by its cover. Let’s look at the content, at what is inside. Is a bad cover necessarily the reflection of a book’s content? What if the author is not the designer of the book cover? What if the editor thought, against the author’s will, that the cover that’s been designed is the best option for the book? If the editor is the government, the designer the professors, and the author the pupils and students, then we might be tempted to see things differently. It would appear that the students are the victims of a system from the government. The professors could be good, but forced to teach or to design programs that barely meet the students’ expectations. Thus, it is likely that the students are the victims of their national educational systems. And when we look at the content of the educational system in most African countries, it appears, in general that educational programs are not contextualized to the needs of African economies and the African society as a whole.
Therefore, we seem to be faced with at least two problems with African universities: 1] bad infrastructures and 2] unadapted programs. In other words, in the educational system, the hardware (premises) and the software (programs) are not really designed to help Africa develop and industrialize. We actually think this way because we can see what the infrastructures and educational programs look like in universities from the developed world. As a result, our imaginary is regularly populated with myths about these universities because we often hear about big names (like Harvard, MIT …) as if a few, but powerful and wealthy elite schools could represent the entirety of the educational system in those developed nations. We tend to think that everything is working perfectly in the entire educational system of these countries as if all universities/schools had premises made out of marble with the best professors in the world. If we cannot deny that African universities do have serious challenges to overcome, it would be unfair to believe that nothing works in African universities.
Africa does have excellent, average and mediocre professors; and the same applies to students, too. Fortunately, this characteristic is not only peculiar to the African continent. It is the case all over the world, even in developed nations. And this is why it is important to celebrate African students who have talent and are developing very innovative solutions, thanks to their strong educational background from African universities and/or schools. And here is a non-exhaustive list of African students who have studied in Africa, not abroad, and who have come up with groundbreaking innovations. They could not have achieved these innovations without the teachings of their professors, among others. In other words, even if a book cover does not look nice, its content can be very interesting. Unfortunately, this content, in Africa, is not often appreciated to its true value.
Makerere University, in Uganda, for instance, seems to be a very good university that we should celebrate in Africa. Brian Gitta from Uganda graduated from Makerere University. He’s mostly known for having developed a mobile application (called Matibabu) that uses light sensors to diagnose malaria in 60 seconds. Brian Turyabagye also graduated from Makerere University. He has developed a mobile application (called MamaOpe) which is connected to a smart jacket that acts like a stethoscope in order to diagnose Pneumonia in apparently a more efficient way. Uganda’s first electric car (the Kiira EV) was also developed at Makerere University.
In Senegal, Abdou Khadre Diop is a product of the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique de Dakar and has developed an application that simulates a virtual laboratory for scientific experiments. Serigne Mactar Bâ developed and manufactured his rockets when he was in high school (the Prytanée Militaire de Saint-Louis) and aged 16. He was helped by his Senegalese professor in physics and chemistry to improve his rockets, at that time. He also attended the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique de Dakar.
Arthur Zang, from Cameroon, graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Polytechnique in Yaoundé and is famous all over the world for having developed the Cardio-Pad which is a medical tablet that performs remote heart diagnosis (ECG) and uses mobile communication networks to transfer data from the tablet (in a rural area, for instance) to a cardiologist who works in a bigger city.
Joel Nwakaire who graduated from the University of Nigeria has designed, developed and manufactured a small-scale prototype plant that produces bio-diesel fuel. His mentors were his Nigerian professors.
Based on the above sample, it appears that the African school system is not the worst in the world. Otherwise, the above talents would have not achieved their goals and dreams in Africa. Some African talents do have emigrated and are doing wonders outside of Africa. But most of them, because they emigrated, did get an initial base at home and were finally given more opportunities intellectually or scientifically to shine abroad than in their home country. This is because one cannot refute the fact that the educational system, among others, needs to be improved in Africa; thus become the number one priority budget-wise.
But as mentioned at the beginning: if the editor is the government, the designer the professors, and the author the pupils and students, then this equation is probably showing which parameter in the equation is a snag to a better educational system in Africa. Unless we fix this parameter, African Universities will still be considered the worst in the world, while they clearly have the potential to rival the best in the world!