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Monday, November 14, 2016

Better education, not far-right politics, is the solution to unemployment

Everywhere, from the developed world to middle income economies, to the so-called developing world, citizens and politicians are paralyzed by stagnant or falling wages and staggered by rising unemployment.

Across the world the underclass is rising up and demanding their fair share of prosperity, which remains trapped within the elite classes. There is no such a thing as trickle down. Here in East Africa, GDP growth is high, sustained and unprecedented. However, such growth has failed to generate employment for a surging youthful population. Nearly 1 in 2 graduates from our universities cannot find work. At the same time employers across the East African Community lament that 1 in 2 graduates are unfit for work.

Anger among the underclass has triggered a political Tsunami, which is shaking the political establishment and the elite to the core. The British underclass gave us Brexit. The underclass of the rust belt just put Donald J. Trump into the White House. Fear of immigrants and rising nationalism among the French underclass could launch Marine Le Pen.

Here at home the political elite mobilizes the underclass along petty ethnic grievance or false entitlement to acquire or retain power. In countries emerging from civil war, the elite inoculate the underclass with a virulent narrative of an imminent return to mayhem and genocide.

The forces of globalization, advances in technology and automation (robotics and artificial intelligence), a knowledge-based economy and the flow of global capital are converging to redefine work and jobs. It is estimated that about 75 million jobs as we know them today could be wiped out in the next two decades.

But politicians inhibited by imagination, persuaded by plain denial and dishonesty are scapegoating and constructing all kinds of straw men, including Chinese, Mexicans, the European Union, immigrants, civil war and other tribes.

The rise of far-right politicians like Donald J. Trump or Marine Le Pen and the endurance of corrupt political elite in some African countries underlines the failure of education and training infrastructure to respond robustly and adaptively to the post industrial economy.

Jobs, as we know them, are going away. The millennial generation changes jobs every two years or less. Full-time work is no more. About 40 percent of workers in the United States are contingent. A job, with all its trappings such as job title and job descriptions will soon be antiquated. Workplace structures are also changing. The Corporate Ladder is quaint. We are getting into the age of The Corporate Lattice, and work is about teams, collaboration, lifelong learning and transferable skills.

Education must change to respond to prepare citizens for a new age. Our education systems must reform to prepare citizens for the new economy in a globalized world where problems are not delivered in disciplinary boxes, and where solutions demand interdisciplinary and complex reasoning. Capitalizing on the fears of the underclass and fanning their fury at the ballot to produce outcomes like Donald J. Trump and Brexit will not yield jobs and economic security.

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