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Gambian minister addresses China-Africa think-tank forum

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By Talibeh Hydara

The Gambian minister of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology has said weak education systems in Africa have pushed the continent’s youths into risking their lives on perilous journeys to Europe.

Professor Pierre Gomez was speaking on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the 12th China-Africa think-tank forum in Jinhua, Zhejiang, an eastern province in China.

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Professor Gomez, himself an alumnus of Zhejiang Normal University, said: “Over the years, we have seen an unprecedented exodus of our most productive population, the youth, across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. This exodus also mimics the worst onslaught of our able-bodied youth since the last world wars.

This is largely blamed on our education system; a system we inherited from our colonial masters, and even as those former masters opened up their education systems to continuous reformation, our part of the world, due to lack of resources and clear foresight, remained stocked in some form of academic and professional decadence.”

The think-tank forum aims to promote relations between the world’s largest developing country and the continent with the highest number of developing countries.

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Speaking on the reforms The Gambia made to revive the education system at the Narada hotel in Jinhua, Professor Gomez said even though the country is resource-constrained, there is vision to holistically reform education for the betterment of the young people.

“I would not be doing justice to my own people if I insist on the path that they did not make efforts. The Gambia government attempted to provide effective and efficient public service; and designed a reform programme for implementation, which centred on institutional capacity building and professionalism to implement those policies, however, the institutional quality that should lean on adequate technical and administrative support as an end to a responsive higher education system could not put up a strong competitive base; and this kept us in a lower economic development. We suffered attritions, brain-drain, poor training methods; and today, both the public and private sectors of the motherland Gambia have been awakened to the persistence of the youth in their struggle to escape the trap of under-development and chose to die in the desert and the Mediterranean sea,” he told the forum.

He lamented the struggles of graduates to get employment in the increasingly competitive job market, saying the time is now to make youths job creators instead of job seekers.

“The failure of our education policies, as a greater Africa Region, is evidenced by the mismatch between graduates and the labour market and the inequitable access to quality higher education on the continent. In The Gambia, for instance, our education programmes have implications for education quality, relevance, and inclusivity. Besides the weak teaching skills and inadequate instructional materials, we have thin governance structures, inadequate staffing, unsustainable funding mechanisms, delineated curricula, and insufficient research capacity. It is for these reasons that my Ministry proposed a higher education transformation, focusing on inclusive access to quality education and training, emphasising demand-side market-relevant skills training, scientific research, and technology development.”

How did China do it?

Drawing lessons from China, which has made significant strides in providing education to all citizens and lifting people out of poverty, Professor Gomez said what the country has managed to do is a “desirable feat”.

“We have been made to understand that your education reform was initially anchored on human resource requirements of the production sectors. We have also seen high level decentralisation that is positioned within the country’s economic reform of a marketisation philosophy. You continued to have a strong grip on institutional evaluation and created agencies along this line at central and regional levels. You linked your education to the economic reform measures oriented towards a market economy; hence you deepened your higher education reform around employment demands with the understanding that standards of higher education quality are the social recognition and acceptance for graduates, meaning colleges and universities should consider the social demands to promote their graduates’ employability and satisfy the demands of scientific innovation and industrialisation. You promoted collaboration between institutions of higher learning and the industry, facilitating knowledge and technology transfer even with universities outside China. You might still be struggling with employability, but given the size of your population, what is coming out of China today is desirable feat,” he noted.

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