Albert Einstein once said everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
In a small ram-shackled village of Wundanyi in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda lives Musa – The Carpenter. Coming from a long lineage of poverty, Musa has never had a chance to sit in a nice and neat row of a classroom. After years of languishing in poverty, Musa decides to utilize his carpentry skills which he learned from a former prominent carpenter. However, due to illiteracy, his status quo in society has remained the same. Musa is not alone, the same story is shared by Rafik, Omondi, Kpelle, and Yuran in Morocco, Kenya, Liberia, and Mozambique. They represent a majority of Africans living on less than 1.25 dollar per day. But its more than just numbers. They have been denied basic freedom and human dignity and forced to make impossible choices daily between food, medicine, housing, and education.
Africa ranks among the bottom quantile economies in the world with poverty being a major contributor. In the outlook grimmer of Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty levels are steadily increasing from 278 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. Illiteracy has been at the top of the poverty food chain where nearly 60 percent of 20-24 –year-olds from the poorest of the population have had less than four years of learning.
The world of illiterate and poverty-ridden people is like a vast endless desert where literacy is like an oasis of fertile land with freshwater flowing and majestic palm trees growing. Illiteracy keeps people chained to ignorance and superstition. It is an obstacle in the path of civilization and development. With literacy comes awareness and awareness brings progress, culture exchange, and civilization. On the other hand, illiteracy brings ignorance which leads to extreme poverty cases. To change this narrative, Africa needs to redefine its approach to learning. More emphasis should be placed on skill development as a means of promoting growth and economic transformation.
Africa needs to embrace comprehensive programs that provide both skills and training, mentorship programs and financial support for the likes of Musa. This will empower them to be more efficient and expose them to more opportunities significantly reducing unemployment, raise incomes and improve the standard of living hence changing their status quo. Development of specific skills and capabilities enable an individual to function effectively in the competitive world of work.
Musa has been chained to the rhythm of illiteracy which denies him the knowledge needed to alleviate him from the small ram-shackled village. If vocational training is to make a difference the government needs to invest in these institutes at the grass-root level like Wundanyi where Musa can easily access.
With the Africa youth population expected to grow by 42.5 million by 2020, according to the world bank, over 470 million jobs will be needed globally in the labor force by 2030- hence the need of African governments to develop key skills like carpentry for Musa to drive economic growth and reduce the poverty gap. By providing quality skill sets to young African youths like Musa, one that meets his needs of today, we can ensure a brighter future for him and his family while closing the poverty gap among many other families. It will take a strong political will by governments to ensure this is achieved. Policies surrounding the school structure and curriculum should be reviewed.
By doing this, we will lift one billion more people out of poverty in a generation.