Kenya can reap education dividend

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BY WOLFGANG FENGLER, CO-AUTHOR: JESÚS CRESPO CUARESMA

Despite positive news and the talk of an African “renaissance,” many still doubt whether the continent is ready for take-off. Rapid population growth and the resulting “youth bulge” remain major concerns in a context of widespread un(der)employment. How can a country like Kenya create one million jobs each year, just to accommodate new entrants into the labour force?

But young people don’t just need jobs, they also create them. Therefore, what matters most is to make sure that the education system delivers the skills needed in emerging economies, and incubates entrepreneurs.

In turn, as people become more educated and healthier, they will have fewer children. This is already happening: As Kenya continues to welcome about a million new citizens each year, family size is slowly declining.

This creates the possibility of a “demographic dividend”, similar to what underpinned economic take-off in other parts of the world. Today, Kenya has more adults than children, more potential workers than dependants, and an increasingly urban population.

At the time of Independence, most adult Kenyans had received no formal education. Since then, there have been two statistical watershed moments, and more to come.

Almost mechanically, this frees up resources: if families have higher incomes but fewer children, each child receives more attention (personal and financial). Nationwide, the demographic dividend can translate into an education dividend as well. And education matters: as it is one of the single most powerful predictors of future income and social mobility.

Using new statistical methods, the Vienna-based Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital has produced some fascinating analysis, which projects education attainment into the future. According to these projections, Kenya’s education landscape is changing rapidly.

At the time of Independence, most adult Kenyans had received no formal education. Since then, there have been two statistical watershed moments, and more to come. First, since 1980 the number of Kenyans with primary education has exceeded those with no education; just over a decade later, those with secondary education also exceeded those with none.

Today, a majority of Kenyans have had the benefit of attaining basic education, and almost all children are going to school, except in northern and north-eastern Kenya.

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