Shifting Demographics in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Shabani, Juba | International Educator, November/December 2008 | Go to article overview
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Shifting Demographics in Sub-Saharan Africa

Shabani, Juba, International Educator

ACCORDING TO VARIOUS POPULATION ASSESSMENTS and projections, the world population will grow significantly in the next few decades. In sub-Saharan Africa, despite the increase in mortality caused by various diseases- in particular, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria - several analyses and projections based on fertility and mortality rates and migration indicate that population growth will continue to increase. Indeed it is projected that Africa's share ofthe world population, which increased from 8.9 to 12.8 percent during the period from 1950 to 1995, will rise to more than 18 percent by 2050. This population growth will pose a major challenge to higher education institutions in terms of access.

In sub-Saharan Africa, despite the rapid growth in student enrollments in the past two decades, all the indicators used to measure the level of development of a higher education system show mat higher education is the least developed in the regions of the world Moreover, the enrollment patterns of higher education institutions in Africa reveal a major underrepresentation of groups such as women, people living in rural areas, and learners with special needs. Therefore, one of the major challenges facing African governments is to widen access to higher education significantly enough to cope with rapid population growth and to address the needs of underrepresented groups. This challenge is exacerbated by the anticipated increase in demand for higher education that will result from the successful implementation of UNESCO's Education for All goals.

Ensuring a 40 to 50 percent enrollment rate of the relevant population group is necessary for a country to perform effectively in a competitive world. Even though several developed countries have already achieved this percentage, in most developing countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, the enrollment rates are lower than 5 percent.

In addition to the anticipated increase in traditional student enrollment rates, globalization has led to the emergence of new training needs and pedagogic delivery modes. This means that further demand for higher education will come from adult learners seeking lifelong learning, refresher courses, and study programs leading to internationally recognized qualifications. In sub-Saharan Africa, higher education institutions are also compelled to train huge numbers of unqualified primary and secondary school teachers and to strengthen teaching capacity at all levels in HIV and AIDS prevention education.

Under these circumstances, higher education institutions in Africa need to revisit their policies, structures, and operations to meet the demands for access and the requirements of more diverse learners-including part-time students, entrepreneurs, primary and secondary school teachers, and students with special needs. This challenge is being addressed through revision of curricula; capacity building in pedagogy; new modes of higher education delivery; innovative open, distance and technology-mediated learning; revised or new quality assurance and accreditation frameworks; and innovative approaches to transform brain drain into brain gain.

New Modes of Higher Education Delivery

Several African countries have established open and distance education programs to respond to the increase in demand and the needs of the new types of learners. These include departments of distance education in tradi- tional universities, the Open University of Tanzania, the Open University of Zimbabwe, the National Open University of Nigeria, and the Zambian Open University. Many other countries are in the process of setting up similar institutions.

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