Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net
African countries are being asked to use science, technology and innovation to create different, more inclusive forms of wealth that benefit entire societies and are more sustainable.
Under-development on the continent can be addressed by reduced reliance on inherited forms of wealth such as oil and minerals, and by shifting to “created” wealth through the application of science, technology and innovation, the Africa ST&I forum heard on its final day today.
“Science and innovation will create not only sustainable but equitable wealth for all in Africa,” said Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank (ADB) at the ministerial session of the forum.
“Created wealth has the potential to accelerate development and reduce inequality, as opposed to inherited wealth which fuels inequalities and at times sparks conflict in Africa,” he added.
Kaberuka said the bank has identified and is funding ST&I initiatives aimed at spurring economic development on the continent, alongside its investments in other sectors such as water, energy and infrastructure development.
He advised universities in Africa to place greater emphasis on e-learning education approaches, to help bridge the gaps resulting from a continent-wide shortage of qualified lecturers and the high number of university students.
“It would make a lot a sense to use e-learning in universities instead of having one lecturer teaching 1,000 students, resulting in poorly qualified graduates,” Kaberuka said.
By 2030, Africa stands to benefit from “demographic dividends”, as it is estimated a quarter of the world’s youth population will be Africans – but the opportunity to take advantage of this workforce will be lost if they don’t receive the education and skills training necessary to innovate and become entrepreneurs.
The ADB boss noted that some Asian counties have effectively utilised their large youth populations, with deliberate strategies to provide skills training and jobs, and said African countries need to perform the same task.
UNESCO director Irina Bokova told the meeting that UNESCO is helping African countries draft and reform their STI policies to align them with demands of current times, with a particular focus on grants and rewards for innovations for young scientists and women.