As the home of the youngest population in the world, Africa struggles to educate and train its bourgeoning youth. The World Bank has reported that 2 in 5 African adults are still illiterate,showing that even basic education is elusive for many African populations.
China is trying to fill this gap in education in Africa, but it is focused on higher-education and skill-based training instead of basic literacy and numeracy. At the 2015 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jin Ping promised to establish a number of vocational schools and train 200,000 technicians in the following three years. In addition, China is also committed to providing African students with 2,000 educational opportunities with degrees and diplomas, providing 30,000 government scholarships, and training 1,000 media professionals from Africa. It is not yet clear how these opportunities will be divided up among African countries and what sectors the opportunities will be focused on.
Projects all over the African continent that are led by China are also serving as a training ground for local populations. In Kenya, the massive Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that is currently being built by China (see above for details), is now providing training opportunities for railway experts in East and Central Africa. It has also been reported that the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has granted 10 million USD in order to upgrade Kenya’s Railway Training Institute (RTI). There is hope that railway specialists from neighboring countries including Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo will benefit from this training hub.
Just like CRBC, other Chinese companies operating in Africa are also attempting to train local populations. China’s telecom giant, Huawei, recently signed an agreement with the Nigerian government to train 1,000 youths in information technology. The company has also made agreements in Ethiopia to create the “Huawei Authorized Learning Partnership (HALP)” with the aim of transferring knowledge in the technology sector.
The examples above are just a few from many educational initiatives that have sprung up in Africa thanks to the Chinese government and Chinese companies. In addition to those, there is also a sizeable number of Africans who are studying in China. The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China has reported that there were a total of 397,635 foreign students studying in China in 2015. Of those, 49,792 were from Africa, representing about 12.52% of the total international student population. Moreover, the number of African students showed the biggest year-on-year increase compared to other regions.
In addition to providing education opportunities to Africans, China is also formally educating its own students about Africa. State media outlet Xinhua has reported that China has now more than 30 institutes offering African Studies, compared to less than 5 about a decade ago. At least 150 institutions of higher learning are also offering courses on Africa.
With the interaction between China and Africa growing politically, economically and culturally more intimate, it is high time the two giants invest in learning about each other. This process is, of course, complicated by the language barrier. China is currently running 46 Confucius Institutes across the African continent that teach Mandarin Chinese and have proven very successful. Therefore, the future for more mutual learning seems fairly bright.