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Committed to empowering socially at-risk young people

Education: a powportrait_official_sg.jpgerful driver of inclusion and youth empowerment in Africa


As the health crisis is worsening educational exclusion, Stefania Giannini is calling for a massive mobilization in education in Africa to harness its transformational potential for both individuals and societies.


Stefania Giannini, Deputy Director General for Education at UNESCO

Stefania Giannini has dedicated her entire career to promoting education as a fundamental right. After her university studies in sociology, she served as Rector at the University for foreigners in Perugia, and later a senator. She was the Minister for Education, Universities and Research in Italy from 2014 to 2016. During her term, she implemented a reform of the educational system focused on social inclusion and cultural awareness.

What are the main educational challenges in Africa?

Despite significant progress, 22% of children in Africa are still not enrolled in primary education. Only 40% of children between the ages of 15 to 17 attend school. Yet education is the driving force for a sustainable future on the continent, and young people are its greatest resource. For this reason, we must make high-quality, inclusive education more widely accessible to guarantee access to decent jobs, increase social cohesion and build fairer societies. Recruiting and training teachers is a major stake in this process, since they are the backbone of any educational system. To help advance girls’ education and fight sexist violence, the educational system needs more female teachers. Furthermore, facilitating access to education does not put an end to exclusion. We also need to promote diversity, and to ensure that every student is valued and respected regardless of his origins or conditions.

What can be done to fight disparities and promote inclusion?

The culture of inclusion necessarily involves fighting discrimination and the cultural or social norms that stand in the way of acceptance. Efforts must begin with greater protection and education for young children, a basis for long-term fairness and equality. Establishing a culture of inclusion also involves a method of support for schools without prejudice or violence, training teachers to foster inclusion, to eliminate stereotypes in educational content and to work with parents and communities. Cross- functional skills acquired through project- based learning and critical thinking, as well as awareness of good citizenship, sexual health education, human rights and media and information literacy, are also the pillars of an inclusive educational system. Beyond this, social inclusion requires forming closer ties between the educational system and the job market through massive investment in workspace learning and expanded partnerships between trainers and companies.

How do you see the future of Africa?

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased inequalities and revealed the extent of the digital divide, putting the right to education at risk and depriving millions of people of all forms of learning. At the same time, we have seen the emergence of remarkably creative ways of maintaining courses via the radio, television, Internet and other hybrid solutions. Let’s seize this momentum and increase the resilience of Africa’s educational systems with innovative solutions that include remote learning, stronger partnerships, greater solidarity and better cooperation. This is the commitment guiding the Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO to provide remote education to all learners. The future of an entire generation is at stake, and social inclusion will not improve in Africa unless we make a commitment to using education as a powerful lever for reducing poverty and guaranteeing sustainable development. This is why the international community must urgently protect investments and assist African countries with their transformation to support learners and by extension all of society.

Empowering The Teachersett_classroom_shot_2.jpg

Transforming engineering education in Nigeria

Since 2010, alongside national oil company NNPC, Total E&P Nigeria has been supporting the program Empowering The Teachers. Offered annually in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world’s most prestigious universities, this training program gives Nigerian teacher-researchers the opportunity to learn high-level teaching methods to improve the classes they give in science and engineering at their universities back home. The program was conceived and initiated by Antonin Fotso of Total E&P (Africa) and John Addeh of Total E&P (Nigeria). To learn more, we spoke with two teachers who participated in the program in 2017, Muhammad Buhari and Chollette Chiazor Olisah, as well as the program’s director, Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande.

What needs does this program meet?

Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande.

In Nigeria, education in science and engineering has traditionally been based on lecture classes and involves memorizing and repeating back information, which is not ideal for fostering creativity or initiative in students, thus preparing them for the working world. Backed by a university on the cutting edge of education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Empowering the Teachers program helps Nigerian instructors develop an approach that encourages critical thinking and creativity in their students. These instructors are shifting their courses to have students participate more actively and engage in practical problem-solving cases, on what they cando, rather than what they can remember, thereby further freeing their potential.


These instructors are shifting their courses to have students participate more actively and engage in practical problem-solving cases, on what they can do, rather than what they can remember, thereby further freeing their potential.  

Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande director of the Empowering The Teachers program.

How are the participants selected?

Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande.

The program is for young teacher-researchers with PhDs in mechanical, electrical, computer, petroleum or chemical engineering. It will soon also be open to those in the geosciences. We receive over 250 applications per year. MIT selects 20 candidates who excel in research and teaching. They are then interviewed in Abuja by a jury of subjectexperts, MIT members and representativesof Total and NNPC. Our selection criteria arebased on their leadership qualities, theirpotential as agents of change and their ability to adapt. At the end of this process, only nine candidates are chosen.


Chollette Chiazor Olisah.

When I went into my interview, I found myself facing a dozen people. As a computer engineering instructor at Baze University, I wanted to take part in this program to increase the attractiveness and impact of my classes, especially on the topic of artificial intelligence1. The jury members asked me questions over a two-hour period in a relaxed atmosphere, which gave me the opportunity to present my arguments and share my passion for teaching.

What does the curriculum include?

Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande.

The participants receive a scholarship which allows them to spend a semester at MIT in Boston (United States). At least twice a week, they sit in as observers on courses similar to the ones they teach at home, and also attend three seminars on MIT’s teaching techniques, communication and culture. Each week, I help them develop the new programs of study that they will implement upon their return to their home universities. We also encourage them to visit the campus laboratories and develop academic collaborations.


Muhammad Buhari.

As a lecturer in electrical engineering at Bayero University, Kano, I wanted to become familiar with learning tools that could captivate my students. At MIT, I was immediately immersed in an environment teeming with educational and social activities. The program is intense but very stimulating, and a great deal of emphasis is placed on observing and interacting. You’re always encouraged to be positive and curious. You soon open up to new things, gain a new state of mind and feel emboldened to make positive changes. The four months on site went by really fast as we had a schedule of over 50 hours per week!

What does this program provide?group_shot_ett.jpg

Muhammad Buhari.

I adopted MIT’s “mind and hand” approach, which focuses on discussion and practical cases. With its combination of concept explanations and simulations, this approach allows students to better absorb the key ideas and move ahead on their own with a curiosity-driven and creative attitude. At MIT, engineering is not approached as an abstract discipline but as a problem-solving process in which every problem proves to have a solution as long as you apply the right strategies to finding it. I updated my own courses to center them around the students and focus on examples. My course on electrical power supply systems, for instance, is now based on concrete projects.


Chollette Chiazor Olisah.

MIT transformed my teaching approach. Upon my return, the university assigned me an Introduction to Information Technology class with around 100 students. My predecessors had always had a hard time getting them to look up from their smartphones and participate in class. I adopted the opposite strategy, assigning the students a fun Python programming module for mobile apps! As a result, many of them launched their own projects and asked me for advice. I also enhanced my Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class by adding fun activities, such as automatic translation of Nigerian languages into English and antispam filtering using TensorFlow, a machine learning tool used at MIT. On top of that, I formed new university collaborations and joined the MIT’s machine learning community. I now pass on these teaching methods to others. I have already organized a training workshop for nearly 30 colleagues from my university

I now pass on these teaching methods to others. I have already organized a training workshop for nearly 30 colleagues from my university.  

Chollette Chiazor Olisah instructor at Baze University, Nigeria.

After 10 years, what’s your verdict on this program?

Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande.

It is a great success. Empowering The Teachers attracts the best university instructors. We are building a network of former members who are making a difference by sharing the educational approaches they learned in the program with other teachers. The workshops that have been held at Nigerian universities, in Lagos and Ilorin for example, have been extremely popular.

Teacher-researchers in mechanical engineering and machine learning at Makerere University, Kampala, Michael Lubwama and Ernest Mwebaze were selected among eight other Ugandan candidates to participate in the Empowering the Teachers program in 2015, with support from Total. Thanks to his participation, Ernest Mwebaze received a grant from MIT to work with researchers from the American university to launch a mobile solution for plant health diagnosis that uses artificial intelligence. “Learning by doing and problem- solving, the focus of this program, helps young people develop critical thinking, creativity and an enterprising spirit,” commented Michael Lubwama. “It is therefore a key tool for Africa’s development.”



  • 9 participants per year since 2016.
  • 80 beneficiaries over 10 years
  • From 28 universities in Nigeria and 1 in Uganda

1. Artificial intelligence is a technology that allows machines to imitate the cognitive processes and decision-making logic of the human brain: facial recognition, automatic translation, etc. This technology includes machine learning, which consists of giving computers the ability to automatically learn from data to improve their problem-solving performance.

ayele_adubra_0.pngVocational training

How is Africa doing?

On a continent where young people represent 60% of the population affected by unemployment, Ayélé Adubra believes that vocational training is one of the keys to boost employment and economic growth. To unlock its potential, skills development should take place at local level, engaging the private sector.

Ayélé Adubra, education and training expert to several international agencies and NGOs

Adubra holds a PhD in human resources from Pennsylvania State University in the US and a master’s degree in Educational Management and Administration from Moray House College in the UK. First a middle- school teacher and then a technical and vocational education training inspector in Togo, Ayélé Adubra now offers her expertise in education and training to several international agencies and NGOs.

What is « vocational training »?

The term “vocational training” is to be connected in a broad sense to technical education. The term “Technical and Vocational Education and Training” (TVET) encompasses the processes of developing knowledge and practical skills implemented to train an individual for a given career. In Africa, this term also includes traditional artisan apprenticeship and a dual type of learning at two places: a training center and a workshop. We are therefore talking about “Technical and Vocation Skills Development” (TVSD). This more inclusive term highlights the link with the working world, incorporating all forms of skills acquisition: private training centers, traditional learning (such as in artisanal crafts), dual learning, work-study programs, etc. The goal is also to better recognize what has been learned through a certification system and a national qualification framework.


What role does it have to play in Africa?

Vocational training plays a crucial part in giving young people a chance to join the work force by teaching them the skills employers look for. In fact, it is one of the first keys to Africa’s growth. However, general education is always preferred. Placing more emphasis on vocational training is therefore an important goal. There is an urgent need for hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people who believe the Eldorado is elsewhere than in Africa. It should be noted that Africa’s demographics are also booming, with a working-age population that will grow from today’s 705 million to 1 billion by 2050, accentuating the urge.


What is the current situation?

Only about 12% of the population has access to formal vocational training. The quality of the training available (programs, trainers, equipment and job search systems) is insufficient. Technical and vocational training is still too theoretical, often disconnected from the current reality of the job market. Moreover, with few options available, young people can only sign up for commerce, accounting or sewing. Later on, when they start looking for jobs, they find out that they do not have the competences required by the job market and they often end up unemployed or underemployed in the informal sector. Conversely, the workforce in technological and digital sectors is too small.

It is essential that [private] players express their expectations, support the training, ensure its quality and get involved in efforts to integrate young people into the workforce.  

Ayélé Adubra

Is the situation improving?

States are aware of the need to train a workforce that will help bring about a transformation in their economies. Africa cannot afford to miss the technology and the industry 4.0 train. Most governments have undertaken major reforms to bring training offerings closer to market needs, to modernize infrastructure and to develop continuing education. The African Union is working on a continent-wide certification framework that will promote mobility between countries. We must accelerate the implementation of these reforms and give them the scope they need.


How can things be turned around?

By greater engagement from the private sector. SMEs, micro-enterprises and artisans must massively invest in the development of technical and vocational skills and promote apprenticeship through a public-private partnership. It is essential that these players express their expectations, support the training, ensure its quality and get involved in efforts to integrate young people into the workforce. To strengthen their employability, it is also important to anchor this development of technical and vocational skills at local level and to work closely with communities, as close as possible to the local context and needs


lalita.jpgStartupper of the Year Challenge

Helping young entrepreneurs get their innovative business projects off the ground

Total launched its first Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge in 2015. This pan-African competition was aimed at young entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and business sectors. Building on the success of the first competition, the 2019 Challenge was extended to 55 countries worldwide. In Mauritius, the members of the jury met with Lalita Purbhoo-Junggee, a visionary young woman, who went on to win both the Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge and the Top Female Entrepreneur award. Her idea was to launch the island’s first natural and biodegradable sanitary towels made from bamboo and corn.

Recycle-moi : an environmentally responsible project

Lalita, 31, is driven by a rare determination to accomplish extraordinary things, without really being aware of it. A radio host at the age of 16, journalist, and then head of two companies with her husband, Lalita began a new chapter in her life in 2016. “I started working on Recycle-moi after a trip to India where, quite by chance really, I came across some natural sanitary towels. They irritated me a lot less than conventional towels and since I have endometriosis1, I found that very appealing. I decided to go and meet the women who make them. I was impressed by what I saw and I began to think about how I might adapt the idea to Mauritius. I did some research, and began developing the product, but after two years, I ran out of money to finance the prototypes!” recalls Lalita. At that moment, destiny or luck entered the equation, when one of the companies she runs with her husband was asked to print posters for the Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge. The prize included financial support and a coaching scheme. Lalita submitted her application and passed the selection stages. “I put a lot of work into preparing the technical and financial components. But I was still really surprised to win both the 2019 Challenge and the Top Female Entrepreneur award!” says the double winner.

I am really happy and grateful to have this support beyond the Challenge.

Lalita Purbhoo-Junggee

From prototype to supermarket shelf

The winner was given financial assistance and support from SME Mauritius Ltd(2). She was also on the front pages of the island’s newspapers. “We switched to top speed. I spent a week in a business incubator in Paris. They really challenged me on the finer points of the project. With Total’s support, the final product was ready in five months!” The official launch was held in one of the Group’s service stations on the island in October 2019. The French ambassador, representatives of the United States embassy and members of the Challenge jury in Mauritius were present at the event. Recycle-moi is now sold in supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations in Mauritius. Less than a year after its market launch, 121 sales outlets already offer customers Lalita’s natural and biodegradable sanitary towels.

With Total’s support, the final product was ready in 5 months!

Lalita Purbhoo-Junggee

Long-term support for talented entrepreneurs

I’m hoping to launch panty liners and pads to coincide with our first anniversary. I know the affiliate will continue to support me in this new venture, by selling my products in their service stations. I’m in regular contact with Total Mauritius. They recommended me for a Ted Talk I’ve been invited to give shortly. I am really happy and grateful to have this support beyond the Challenge. It is just the next stage in this amazing adventure with Total."

1. Endometriosis is a gynecological disease that affects around 10% of women. It is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb, called endometrium, grows in other places.
2. A private company wholly owned by the Mauritian government that supports startuppers and small- and medium-sized companies.