Will education let Africa reap its demographic dividend?

Pupils line up at a school in Togo
An estimated 74 million young people in Africa will leave school by 2020; better education is the only way to make them employable in a modernizing economy (source: dpa)
  • Only better education will allow African economies to absorb a demographic wave
  • Access to public schools has generally improved, but education quality is poor
  • The skills gap has not been closed by a dramatic expansion in private education

Africa, with nearly 40 percent of its population under the age of 18, is the youngest continent in the world. According to the latest edition of the United Nation’s World Population Prospects, it will be home to one-quarter of the global population by 2050, while the working-age population will increase to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. Africa’s age dependency ratio, which indicates the share of working-age people in the total population, is 85.7 – far above the European Union (53.9) and the global average (54.2), according to data compiled by the World Bank.

These trends suggest that over the next few decades, Africa will reap a demographic dividend from its expanding working-age population, which should result in higher productivity (via a higher employment ratio) and increased savings, investment and consumption. However, this best-case scenario rests on the assumption that these age cohorts acquire the skills to be employable and productive.

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