Emerging from a colonial history, African leaders have felt the need to collaborate for greater strength and confidence in African education systems, structures and institutions. Among these systems, Higher Education (HE) is certainly a driver for development: it is the incubator for research, knowledge generation and data management as well as capacity development. Harmonization implies the agreement, synchronization and coordination of education systems to strategically develop and strengthen the capacity of HE institutions to respond simultaneously to the educational and employability needs of populations. In 1981, 21 out of 54 African leaders showed their willingness for such collaboration by signing and ratifying the Arusha Convention that outlines guidelines for harmonizing HE through the mutual recognition of qualifications as well as inter-country collaboration.
For many reasons however, harmonization of HE in Africa has remained impalpable. Partly, this is because of lack of financial resources and the different linguistic zones that divide Africa. The globalized world, which is characterized by an increasingly mobile intellectual labor force, has shown that growing attention must be paid to quality assurance of HE in Africa. Inspite of the fog clouding this issue, the University World News reports that UNESCO believes there was a breakthrough for Africa last December when 16 countries signed an amended version of the Arusha Convention on the recognition of qualifications across the continent. Globally, four other regions have established conventions to harmonize their HE systems: Latin America and the Caribbean (1974), the Arab States (1978), Europe (1979) and Asia and the Pacific (1983).
The cardinal importance of harmonization, equivalence and standardization of education systems in the Africa is to establish agreed education systems, as a tactic for strengthening the capacity of education institutions to meet many emerging needs. Through innovative forms of collaboration, education can be systematically improved against common, agreed benchmarks of excellence thereby facilitating the mobility of students in the African region. Smooth transition of students from one school system or university in one country to a school setup in another country is paramount.
The growing trend of globalization, implying close cooperation between member states in trade, also highlights the crucial need to standardize and harmonize training and higher education systems. More effective functional cooperation among African states also results from the harmonization of education and training systems. Therefore, to facilitate the regional integration processes and especially the free movement of human resources and professional labor, there is great need for harmonization.
Furthermore, there is great need to harmonize training systems in the region so as to make it easier for a university or trainee graduate to secure employment in one country after studying in another country. When there is no harmonization some qualifications may not be recognized due to different curriculum content and time of completion. There is need for the establishment of an increasingly networked and interrelated group of curricula and examination systems, working collaboratively in such a way that these systems possess overlapping characteristics which can influence each other. Harmonization will thus require the examination and grading systems to be realigned so as to achieve comparability and some commonness.
Moreover, there is need to progressively achieve the goal of harmonization of education and training systems to achieve pooling and sharing of resources of African states in critical and weighty education functions like research, planning and curriculum development. With the African countries working hand in glove, there are higher chances of faster and common development in all countries, reducing income disparities, which currently exist. In the same vein, when resources are pooled together, economies of scale can be harnessed. These are benefits gained when the countries operate at a large scale. With harmonized education and training systems, publication of textbooks becomes easier as books needed in Ghana are the same as the ones used in Zambia; it becomes easier for the publishing houses. Additionally, economies of scale are enjoyed in production of learning materials, school supplies and even in the purchase of such materials. Thus the harmonization, equivalence, and standardization of education and training systems is very important.
To accelerate the process, a more effective regional committee advocating for harmonization should be set up. People with great zeal to work should be given the top posts for the job to be well done. The committee will be charged with the mandate of ensuring smooth implementation of this goal. The committee should be given the authority by the African Union to take measures on countries that will be disturbing progress. For the process to be faster, all member states should attend all meetings called up for the harmonization process. Heavy penalties should be levied on countries that fail to attend meetings. A logic roadmap also needs to be established by the committee so that it knows the correct order of steps to implement at specific times for the process to be faster.
The harmonization process is delayed in most cases due to lack of funding. It is high time African countries stop depending on donor funding. I recommend that a certain and fixed percentage be made on the budgets of all countries to facilitate the process. With money in the hands of the regional committee, the process of equivalence, standardization and harmonization of education and training systems becomes easier and quicker.
In addition to the above, it is my recommendation that barriers to the progressive implementation are removed. These barriers include languages, different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a noble move to have the dominating languages be taught throughout the whole region, that is, Portuguese, French and English should be integrated by everyone for the process of harmonization faster. People should bury their differences and work towards a common goal in the region. Cooperation among member countries should be promoted as this helps facilitate and fasten the process.
The process of harmonization should be tackled from the root. The standardization of curricula of early childhood, primary and secondary education should be done first so as to accelerate the achievement of the goal in higher education and training systems. A common curriculum in primary and secondary education is a companion measure to designation and specification of class groups at the primary and secondary level. This later translates to every stage of education and training in the region.
Heavy awareness campaigns on the issue at hand should be made so that the whole region is actively involved. Some TV channels like Voice of America have wide coverage in the region. Having educational and informative advertising about the harmonization process, bringing out its fortunes, will lead to faster achievement of the protocol’s ultimate goal as every living soul feels it has a part to play. The private sector, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders can then be able to jet in to assist, thus accelerating the process.
Conclusively, the sky is the starting point as far as the achievement of the aims and objectives of the harmonization process are concerned. I believe the following words by Joshua Nkomo, the late Zimbabwean Vice President, “united we stand, divided we fall” show how the success story of harmonizing higher education lies in the hands of every African.