Image: Sika Group
Representing the final frontier for energy sector exploration, and the continent with the youngest and fastest growing population globally, Africa’s resource potential, coupled with an able-bodied workforce, can drive large-scale, multi-sector developments continent wide. However, despite global investors turning an eye to African prospects, and associated developments accelerating across the continent, the question of whether or not the workforce is well-equipped to take on these opportunities arises.
With human capital development being considered one of the prerequisites for sustainable and long-term economic development, Africa’s education sector and the challenges imposed thereof have been brought to light. The situation in Africa appears to be somewhat of a catch 22, whereby the energy sector requires an educated workforce and yet energy is required to educate the workforce.
Essentially, access to electricity can rapidly increase the quality and attainment of education in Africa. By improving teaching resources and materials, enabling more efficient school administration, expanding working hours – beyond daylight hours – for both students and teachers, and creating the opportunity for more time to be spent in school by students, electricity can ensure meaningful education. What’s more, increased access can significantly reduce disparities between rural and urban education facilities. By enabling the utilization of technology, internet resources, communication platforms, and online learning materials in rural schools, education will not only be equal, but of a comparatively high standard. All in all, electricity access will directly enhance education, creating both a viable and innovative workforce for the energy sector.
Despite education expanding significantly in Africa over the past 30 years, inequality and exclusion at all levels remain evident across the continent. The United Nations estimates that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion with over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11, one-third of youth between the ages of 12 and 14, and 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 out of school. Notwithstanding financial and geographic limitations preventing inclusion, energy access has been identified as one of the primary factors restricting participation and completion, as well as impacting the standard of education in Africa.
Regardless of ongoing progress to improve electrification worldwide, lack of access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa remains prominent and continues to hinder effective education. In 2019, two thirds of the global number of people who lacked access to electricity – estimated at 759 million – were in sub-Saharan Africa, with 97 million in urban areas and 471 million in rural areas. Additionally, Africa’s rural population represented 58.7% in 2020, of which children comprised the highest demographic. Lack of off-grid power solutions in Africa, coupled with the fact that more than two thirds of primary schools in Least Developed Countries are without electricity, have led to an education crisis in Africa and the prevention of effective human capital development.
Accordingly, in addressing the education challenges brought about by lack of access to electricity, a unique investment opportunity has emerged for investors within both the energy and education spheres. Notably, through the expansion of national electricity grids and the increase in renewable energy developments within rural areas, stakeholders will not only increase electrification in Africa, but boost education and economic development. By redirecting capital to power generation developments – particularly regarding new resources such as natural gas – and expanding transmission networks to remote locations, access to electricity in rural areas can significantly increase, enabling the electrification of schools and educational facilities.
What’s more, regional and international renewable energy stakeholders have been presented with both an extensive and lucrative opportunity considering off-grid developments. Renewable energy resources might actually be the best solution to power rural areas, with solar and hydropower developments offering the most feasible off-grid solution for rural Africa. By leveraging the continent’s green resources, and expanding grid connection continent wide, Africa can rapidly increase electricity access, drive high-quality and inclusive education, and accelerate human capital development, while at the same time, creating a formidable energy sector workforce that will drive continent wide socio-economic growth.