Africa: Why Investing in Teachers is Critical to the Future of Every African Child Deserves

By Stephen Omollo and Farida Ally

2024 is the African Union year of Education, but when we step into a classroom and see more than a hundred students to one teacher, our hearts sink. Of course, we will see angelic smiling children having fun with their friends and learning new social skills. Some, through tremendous talent and willpower, will be able to take their studies beyond the secondary level. But most in this situation will not learn the critical skills to contribute sufficiently to their own, and Africa’s future development.

Compare this to the children of wealthy families in small classes with access to the latest computer and science equipment and technology. Their teachers will give them individual attention and most importantly, they will learn the skill of continuous learning and re-learning. This is the most important skill one can have in the 21 st century as opportunities for people and economies are continuously evolving.

The plain truth is that Africa needs 15 million more teachers simply to meet the minimum recommended teacher-student ratios, and this is not to mention the more than 100 million out-of-school children across the continent. This huge gap in qualified teachers is the most important single missing input to the Education system. Education is the most important single input to development and prosperity across our continent.

Huge class sizes stifle potential for all children, but imagine the girl who has the potential to do wonderful things in subjects like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, potentially leading to great future innovation and progress. These ‘STEM’ subjects are notoriously difficult for girls and women to break into. Not only will this girl find it difficult to get the individual attention she needs in a huge class, but she will be pulled back by perceptions that such careers are not for her, simply because she is a girl.

This is why training teachers is not simply about numbers but also quality, and understanding the needs of girls is critical here. Many girls in Africa miss over a month of school a year due to inadequate sanitation facilities alone. Imagine such a huge disadvantage before even starting to think about all the other forms of educational and social inequity that exist across our continent.

Girls need teachers who understand that they can be vulnerable to gender-based violence in school settings, often due to a lack of classroom supervision. Adolescent girls require sensitivity and support in responding to changes in their bodies as they go through puberty. Girls also need special support to build their confidence from teachers with open and pluralistic values to help them achieve their potential in whatever career or future they want to create for themselves. This requires gender-responsive teaching methods, which must be part of modern teacher training.

So as we enter into the African Union Year of Education with the summit that took place last week in Addis Ababa, our plea to the leaders of our continent is to invest in training quality teachers. We ask that countries budget for training enough teachers to meet internationally recognized standards, and to do this every year as a vital long-term investment. Teachers, particularly female teachers, must also be properly compensated, and supported and have a workplace free from harassment and violence. Taken together, this is a change that will benefit every girl and boy and ultimately the whole of Africa, in building the skills we desperately need for the economies and societies of today and tomorrow.

Stephen Omollo is the Global CEO of Plan International and has been a leader of international humanitarian and development organizations for several years. Before becoming CEO of Plan International, he held senior roles at World Vision, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Stephen passionately believes that amplifying the voices of young people especially girls is critical if we are to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.  

Farida Ally, a 24-year-old Kenyan education activist and dedicated youth leader, is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies. Holding a diploma in community development and social work, she is the founder and director of ELIMU CARE, a community-based organization focused on educational development and addressing gender and leadership issues. Her educational journey inspires her vision for a world where every child has access to quality education, regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.

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