Africa is faced with a massive challenge to its successful economic and social development. Through the 1980s, most countries on the continent saw their performance on economic and social indicators decline. Whilst some improvement was seen in the 1990s, it is far from clear that the corner has been turned. Moreover, the late 1990s raised the importance of new imperatives that much of the continent seems ill prepared to face: globalisation and pro-poor growth.
The \"Learning to Compete\" project has sought to engage with this situation, through the collection of data in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa by a multi-national and multidisciplinary team. This final report focuses on the challenges and the opportunities for these African countries, and, by extension, many of their neighbours, to respond to external pressures and for their peoples to enjoy improved livelihoods. These require a much greater focus than hitherto on the learning of individuals, enterprises, institutions and nations in order for development to have a good chance of success.
It is important to stress the connected nature of three sectors: education, training and small enterprise development. This leads to a focus on the notion of \"learning-led competitiveness\", as a way of stressing this connectedness. The notion of \"learning-led competitiveness\" is concerned with the impact of facets of globalisation on the struggle for international competitiveness and sustainable livelihoods. The report takes the view that globalisation is a major challenge, as well as a potential opportunity. Whilst countries in Africa often seems ill-placed to compete successfully, if globalisation is not addressed this will result in the region falling even further behind other regions in accessing global markets.
Globalisation pressures increase the priority for enterprises in Africa of developing strategies that can maximise their competitiveness. Globalisation also reshapes the nature of competitiveness strategies. In particular, it heightens the importance to enterprises of capturing the benefits of institutional and individual learning. Whilst education and training do not determine enterprise success, it is clear that they can play an important role in such success.
The report seeks to explore how such a focus shapes our current understanding of the possibilities for enterprise development. Given the arguments in favour of the relative efficiency of smaller enterprises, and the preponderance of such enterprises in most African contexts, the principal focus will be on small and micro enterprises (SMEs). This focus, however, cannot be totally divorced from a consideration of the health of larger enterprises. Indeed, relationships among enterprises of different sizes are an important element of a learning-led competitiveness approach.
A focus on learning-led competitiveness allows new questions to be raised about the performance of education and training institutions and systems. The report examines evidence about education and training performance in this new light and raises a series of important questions for future developments.
Educational Paper No. 42, DFID, London, UK, ISBN 1 86192 314 7, 122 pp.