There has never been a more exciting time to be African — we are finally seeing a very real shift towards a “one Africa” approach, particularly in terms of trade and economic goals.
Last year marked the establishment of the groundbreaking African Continental Free Trade Agreement aimed at boosting intra-African trade by transforming Africa into a single free-trade area. The similarly revolutionary Single Air Transport Market initiative, which is part of the African Union Agenda 2063, is also set to change the continent’s economic landscape.
Amid these positive developments, however, Africa continues to be plagued by various destructive events, such as a rise in xenophobic incidents and reports of corruption by African leaders. This shows the necessity of addressing the root causes of Africa’s problems to enable the mechanisms for progress to succeed.
No matter how well strategised and aspirational plans for African socioeconomic growth are, their success and sustainability depend on overcoming the underlying issues troubling the continent.
Most of Africa’s problems relate to political and social unrest and corruption can be attributed to poor leadership. Therefore, progress is dependent on developing ethical, inclusive and truly pan-African leaders who will take the continent forward — socially, politically and economically.
To achieve this, we need to start early, with the young potential leaders of tomorrow. Higher education institutions need to incorporate values of multiculturalism and diversity as an integral part of African pedagogy. “Tolerance” is not enough; educational institutions need to teach students to embrace diversity. And not just in terms of race, religion and nationality, but in the broader diversity scope including gender equality, support for people with disabilities and compassion for the elderly and less fortunate.
Lisa Simelane, the director of teaching and learning at the Africa Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, shares her insights on what such a model should look like. Simelane, who has a master’s degree in education, specialises in curriculum development in an African context. She describes a diversity-focused teaching approach as one that is discussion-based, learner-centred and allows student voices to be heard.
“In fact, the curriculum of the African studies class that I lecture is a combination of internally developed course content, Cambridge A-level humanities and, very importantly, the input of our students from different parts of the African continent,” Simelane says.
This structure, she says, stimulates the sharing of stories, experiences and perspectives among learners from different cultural backgrounds. “Dialogue and social interaction are core to driving multiculturalism goals, as is promoting critical thinking.
“Access to knowledge, ideas and diverse insights are powerful mechanisms to help individuals transform circumstances for themselves, their communities and the continent.”
Simelane adds: “It is important to create opportunities for students to apply multicultural learnings and exercise principles, practices and procedures in authentic contexts, displaying leadership potential that can be transferred to broader environments as they progress through life.”
Another authority on the subject of diversity in education, James A Banks, describes five dimensions to multiculturalism in education in his book Dimensions of Multicultural Education. These are: content integration, the knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, an equity pedagogy and an empowering school culture and social structure.
The importance of integrating multiculturalism and diversity into higher-education models should not be underestimated in terms of personal, professional and societal applications. By instilling these values in young people as part of their early development, we promote the goal of growing future African leaders who are able and willing to collaborate with each other, consider diverse perspectives, value others’ opinions and take a holistic, continent-focused leadership approach.
In doing so, we will begin to move closer to achieving African socioeconomic objectives in a tangible and sustainable manner that boosts pan-African trade, creates an economic climate that supports entrepreneurship, leads to job creation, improves socioeconomic circumstances and fosters increased political stability.
Educators, parents, young people and, basically, any individual or group interested in Africa’s future success should realise the significant role played by multicultural higher education models in developing leaders who have the capacity to positively transform the African landscape and move the continent forward.
Embracing diversity and inclusion is pivotal to pan-African peace and prosperity goals — and the key to success lies in the hands of African youth.