More on squandered intellectual talent

This is an NY times story on higher education institutes in Africa(registration needed sadly). Now while the reality isn’t quite as bleak as the story makes it out to be there are a couple of central points that are very true. The main one is how little attention has been paid to expanding public higher education in Ghana.

When the country gained independence it had a population of roughly four million people. Now it has a population of almost six times that size. Half of which is below 25 years old. at the same time the Universities meant to house them have not grown to keep up with the exploding number of students coming out of an equally troubled secondary school system. Hence, the problem of an increasing number of students competing for dwindling resources.

Now, thankfully the last decade or so has also seen the quite a few private universities arrive to soak up some of this crowd(Ashesi probably being the best of them) but frankly its far from enough. Education at this level really does not appear to be enough of a priority to anyone with the ability to make real headway in fixing it.

This incidentally is one of the things about projects like the OLPC project and Intel’s classmate sit a little strangely with me. The truth is that the idea of needy African children is sexy. Everyone is willing to agree that little Kwaku and Ama need to learn how to read, write and solve maths problems. Not as many people are as interested in Ama at 25 looking to write a thesis in remote sensor networks or Kwaku’s dream of building a probe to explore the edges of the universe. Its not as sexy and doesn’t lend itself as well to a certain brand of paternalism that tends to characterize foreign aid to this part of the world.

sidenote: Speaking of Ashesi, looks like a couple of their students got scholarships to TEDGlobal in Tanzania. I was really hoping for one of those too. Ah well, I’ll have to settle for reading summaries.

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3 Comments on “More on squandered intellectual talent”

  1. Al says:

    I am an American that has visited a few secondary schools and universities throughout Africa. I think there is a real need, even in Ghana, for a comprehensive review of “standards” and “expectations” in secondary schools. Students need to held to a higher standard in large part because so many enroll at University of Ghana and Ashesi underprepared to do university-level work (even the students that score well on WAEC exams). However, this can only solve part of the probelm. I would encourage Ghana to consider two more things: focus more resources on Junior Secondary School and invest in a “community college model”. Senior Secondary Schools preparations begins with proper preparation in JSS. I would invest more resources (and ask for support from outside of Ghana) for JSS. Second, for students that qualify for University but are not fully prepared, I would create “community colleges” that can operate out of villages as well as cities. These CCs would focus on specific areas but also offer a broad range of “liberal arts” programming. This is also something folks outside Ghana would be willing to invest in. Finally, if Ama is a real person interested in writing her thesis in remote sensor network, there is plenty of funding in the world for that! 🙂

  2. kwasi says:

    We actually don’t disagree at all about the need for reforms in basic education. The system that stands now has all sorts of issues and your solutions are actually pretty close to the things I have been thinking about.

    As for Ama, I know people like her and its sad how little support for them in country. Ideally they should not need to chase funding and equipment outside their continent.

  3. […] I’ve been meaning to write this post since I was asked what I meant by connecting the OLPC program to paternalism. What really got me going though, was this series of posts by Ethan, Sokari and the Afromusing blog […]


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