Bridging the Education and Workplace Gap in Africa

I am delighted to support Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA), a registered charity founded in 2016 that aims to use evidence to improve education in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on how students transition from university or college to employment. My friend Pauline Essah is the Head of Research and Insight at ESSA, building on her remarkable work as the Manager of Cambridge-Africa Programme, University of Cambridge, where we met.

Given that ESSA’s aim is to use “data and evidence to drive the change needed for a dramatic improvement in education for young people” and to achieve high-quality education “that enables young people to achieve their ambitions and strengthens society”, ESSA’s mission and vision are aligned with SDGs 4 and 8 (Quality Education and Decent Work respectively), and ​the Africa Union Agenda 2063.

The work being done at ESSA is crucial because it targets young people, who make up a significant percentage of the population in Africa. In 2015 there were 226 million young people aged 15-24 living in Africa, making up one fifth of the world’s youth population. This youth population is expected to increase by 50% over the next 30 years. It is important that this teeming population is well educated and prepared to access meaningful work, and that tertiary institutions can provide this education and produce professionals who are able to find and create employment.

While many investments into education in sub-Saharan Africa are well-meaning, they are often not supported with data and may not address critical areas in education access. This is the change that ESSA is working to bring – partnering with governments and leaders in universities, colleges and vocational institutions to use evidence to improve access to tertiary institutions. The charity also wants to increase the quality of education and its relevance to the workplace, ease the transition from educational environments to workplaces, and build a knowledge ecosystem that drives this change. ESSA works to identify the big issues in tertiary education, build partnerships that allow them to collect the data and evidence needed to effect change, and turn this evidence into real life solutions that can be scaled and implemented in educational institutions.

Since its inception, ESSA has identified and sought to solve a number of challenges to education for young African students:

  • There is a dearth of knowledge about the impact of scholarship programmes for Africans. By studying over 400 global top scholarship programmes, ESSA discovered that many programmes for African students were not fully accessible. This challenge was more pronounced for disadvantaged students (such as refugees and the disabled) who needed them most and for whom these scholarships would have the most societal impact. Sometimes, students who were awarded these scholarships did not complete their programmes, and often did not receive support to transition into work. To maximise returns on scholarship programmes, ESSA built a framework to measure the impact of scholarships. This was featured in UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring report, on Inclusion and Education, for official monitoring of target 4.b of the SDGs. To address the problem of tailored access to scholarships, ESSA created a digital scholarship hub that allows students find funded opportunities for tertiary education around the globe that suit them.
  • For many researchers and academics in the education sector in Africa, there is poor visibility for their work. ESSA created the African Education Research Database, a free online database with over 4,000 papers by African academics, in English, French and Portuguese. ESSA is also seeking funding to curate research from this database that promotes better education policies, to make them more accessible to policy/decision makers for tertiary education in Africa.
  • Another problem identified was low faculty numbers in many African universities, especially women. Universities and colleges are places where women can access leadership skills, and new research on gender issues can be pioneered. Women in leadership roles within universities and colleges can encourage more women to pursue leadership and counteract unconscious gender biases – transforming society so that it works better for everyone. ESSA is currently analysing the policies and practices in place at tertiary institutions that may be limiting women’s potential, and will work with African partners to co-develop solutions to promote female leadership in these institutions.
  • Following a successful pilot project in Ghana involving the National Council for Tertiary Education in Ghana, ESSA is now partnering with the Inter-University Council for East Africa, the Association of African Universities (AAU), and the Population Reference Bureau to document and understand the challenges of poor faculty-to-student ratios at universities and colleges across six East African countries. The partners intend to co-develop solutions to address the faculty challenges and improve the quality of teaching and learning in those institutions. The organisation has also partnered with the AAU and Warwick Employment Group to co-create an African Education Jobs Board to retain academic talent within Africa and promote academic mobility between educational institutions across Africa.

ESSA also partners with bodies such as the Robert Bosch Foundation, Dubai Cares, Mastercard Foundation, and a number of universities within and outside Africa to carry out research and implement strategies.

As a data and evidence-driven charity, ESSA recognises the importance of learning from first-hand experiences about education and work across sub-Saharan Africa. ESSA continues to work to translate its research into solutions, partner to implement these solutions in many countries within the region, and explore niche issues such as mapping tertiary education opportunities for young refugees/displaced people (in partnership with the UNHCR).

I invite you to get involved with the important work ESSA is doing via voluntary positions, or by supporting them through donations, here.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela

About Parminder Vir

Parminder Vir has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding.

She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa’s leading philanthropic organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.

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