Overcrowding, low funding plague African universities

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- A UNESCO specialist on education has identified the sudden explosion in student population and inadequate financial allocation as two major problems plaguing higher education in Africa.
According to Burunsi Juma Shabani, principal specialist at the UNESCO office for Education in Africa (BREDA), the increase in student enrolment has surpassed the capacities of universities, thus making budget allocations increasingly insufficient to provide students with quality training.
In an interview with PANA, Shabani, therefore, said "the unemployment of graduates reflects that their training has no relevance or quality that corresponds to employment needs.
" "Many managers have complained about the low level of university training in regard to the tasks that graduates are required to perform," he cited.
Shabani said, though budgets were increased in certain cases, the enormous needs make the money insufficient.
He cited how Cote d'Ivoire, which allocates 43 percent of its operating budget to education in general and 20 percent to just higher education alone, is not without problems in that sector "Because of the rapid increase in needs, the budgets are no sufficient to purchase teaching materials and equipment as well as enable teachers to have continuing education to update their knowledge," he pointed out.
In reply to whether teachers' lack of training have a negative effect on the performance and graduates, Shabani enumerated several factors including teachers' "lack of continuing education", especially in methodology.
He observed that university lecturers, in general, do not have sufficient pedagogical training, and suggested that they pursue continuing education courses to enable them cater to the specific needs of students, the development of technologies and other pedagogical aspects.
Shabani lamented that secondary school students are hardly prepared for university education because their schools lacked teaching aids like libraries and laboratories that enhance practical training.
He pointed out how some institutions like the University of Togo suppressed practicals in the science faculties as well as dissertations and master's theses as factors that affect the quality of education.
He said strikes also contributed to the poor performance of African universities by forcing some of them to shorten their academic year and hastily gloss over courses without giving students enough time to understand and digest the subject matters.
"It is absolutely necessary for us to adapt our training programmes to benefit from new technologies," Shabani warned, citing rapid progress in knowledge and technologies as firstly demanded by globalisation.
With regard to the second challenge, he said it was urgent for us to benefit from the advantages offered by the new technologies in the education sector, but especially in research.
"The development of telecommunications, in particular, can enable us to connect to international research networks and thus make use of publications and other available documents," he added.
He suggested the reformulation of higher education policies among reforms that could salvage higher education in Africa.
"With the rapid increase in student population, we can no longer have all the students on a single campus.
The infrastructure are no longer sufficient and we cannot continue to build indefinitely.
" Therefore, he suggested the need to envisage other forms and types of higher education including distance learning courses.
Furthermore, private institutions of learning should be provided with the necessary means to help cope with the explosion in student population and lack of quality education.

11 june 2001 12:52:00

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