Soft – Skills Education Is Important for African Schools

By Adetola Salau

Through my education, I didn’t just develop skills, I didn’t just develop the ability to learn, but I developed confidence.” – Michelle Obama
Last week Saturday, we (our social innovation enterprise – Carisma4U) had our inaugural STEM conference and it was a wonderful event of brainstorming, learning and collaboration. We had one of the beneficiaries of our earlier STEM bootcamp speak to participants about the importance of STEM to him. We work on real world applications of the skills we emphasise to them and one of those skills is communication. We talk about the skills they need to be future-ready. This information is key because research has shown that when learning is made relevant, retention is higher.
This is the direction in which education should go for our students in Africa. Our students should be taught how to behave during job interviews, the importance of communication and presentation skills, and how to dress for interviews or internships. Academic education is important but guiding the youth to also having key skills that create future-readiness in their careers is crucial to ensuring their employability or the ability to be successful at whatever paths they decide upon on longterm. All along, education has focused on the knowledge of subjects but neglected areas like public speaking and teamwork.
Bucking the Old Model
We need to get more schools to explore new learning models that incorporate soft skills; to empower more students to become better communicators, problem solvers and global citizens.
After our STEM bootcamp warrior gave his presentation, several people came up to us to marvel at the confidence and clarity evident from equipping our students with STEM skills. During the ‘warrior’s’ presentation, he didn’t read verbatim from the Power Point presentation that had been prepared but backed it while addressing the participants of the conference. There were over 200 people present and this teenager spoke to them from his own experience. Confidence is a critical part of the soft skills lesson, alongside leadership, and emotional intelligence.
We desire other African nations to emulate what Rwanda has done in making the work-readiness curriculum — called Akazi Kanoze Access — a huge part of the learning in all secondary and vocation technical schools.
Akazi Kanoze, which means “work well done” in Kinyarwanda, has trained over 20,000 students with soft skills to make them employable. Students work in teams, and a group of four or five students mingle and play-act various roles. The Rwandan government hopes that the programme will mitigate the national unemployment gap, which stands at 13.2 percent according to their national statistics. Most employers who take up these students, report that they like them because they’re on top of their job’s needs, have a positive attitude, and work hard.
This curriculum makes it necessary for teachers to shift their understanding of what learning entails. This redoing of learning enables educators to be more engaging, and there is a lot of interaction with the students.
In Senegal, 30,000 students and 250 schools have been selected by the government to carry out a pilot to infuse soft skills, entrepreneurship and financial literacy in a programme called Improving Work Entrepreneurship Performances (APTE). So far, more than 1,000 teachers were trained in 2017.
We need to fill the gap for our students by giving them the skills to cope in the real world and navigate through the myriad of choices that life offers.
Let’s truly get our students future-ready on all fronts!

Adetola Salau,, an advocate of STEM education, public speaker, author, and social entrepreneur, is passionate about education reform.

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