Educate An Africa Fit For The 21st Century

By Yasmine Sherif

As we lead into the Africa Year of Education, and under the leadership of Africa, world leaders have an opportunity to solidify commitments to ‘Educate an Africa Fit for the 21st Century’. That means to empower Africa to deliver on the goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Paris Agreement and Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to invest in an end to inequity through the power of quality education and lifelong learning.

With the right opportunities, the current accomplishments and future potential of Africa are limitless. Sadly, inequity accompanied by armed conflicts, climate change, forced displacement, poverty traps and other factors continue to derail development gains and push children to the margins.

Approximately 54% of crisis-affected children worldwide live in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Education Cannot Wait’s Global Estimates Study. The region has experienced a multi-million increase in the number of children affected by crises, primarily driven by large-scale droughts in Eastern Africa and the increasing intensity of several conflicts. We need to give Africa’s resilient young generation a chance equal to everyone else and an opportunity to blossom.

While the out-of-school rate is steadily decreasing across Sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number has reached the alarming global estimate of 98 million. Put simply, about half of the crisis-affected children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school.

In African countries where you see high-levels of armed conflict, combined with the push-on effects on climate change, forced displacement and extreme poverty – including countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Nigeria – we are witnessing a concerning spike in the number of children that are out of school.

Quality is also an issue, as a result of lack of opportunity. “The share of children who cannot read a simple text with comprehension by age 10 was the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa before the COVID-19 pandemic, at 86%. This rate is likely to have worsened after the pandemic, estimated now at 90%,” according to the African Union. “This means that 9 out of 10 children cannot read a simple text with comprehension by age 10.”

To address this challenge, we must take a multilateral approach and responsibility, pool in resources, tap local, national and regional talents, and embrace a new way of working. This includes substantially increasing international funding support for education – especially on the frontlines of Africa’s emergencies and protracted crises.

This year’s G7 provides a remarkable opportunity for global leaders to step up. Education in Africa is taking center stage in the Italian Government’s Mattei Plan. Italy joined Education Cannot Wait’s group of strategic donors with an initial contribution of US$2.1 million at last year’s High-Level Financing Conference. As Italy assumes leadership of the G7 this year, we look forward to renewed support from Italy and all members of the G7 to invest in education for the young people of Africa.

In the United States, we also urge leaders to pass the READ Act Reauthorization. The commitment towards universal education makes it clear that access to quality education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. According to UNICEF, “it contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Further, girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.”

All governments must take firm steps to increase their own commitments to education, as we’ve seen through ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in places like Chad, Nigeria and Uganda. With these innovative investment models, we have the power to crowd-in resources, to tap local organizations and to deliver as one for those left furthest behind.

This goes beyond building classrooms and providing learning materials. To address the challenges of Africa and beyond, we must make available a full assortment of holistic educational supports, including training teachers, improving access to mental health and psychosocial services, and ensuring young children are able to learn through play and older learners are able to continue on to secondary education and beyond.

By 2026, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), as the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises within the United Nations, has committed to mobilize a total of US$1.5 billion to reach 20 million crisis-impacted children and adolescents. In Ethiopia, through our innovative investments, we are ensuring children with disabilities like Rewda Abdi are able to access accelerated learning programmes. In Somalia, we are building safe spaces for girls like Bisharo. And in Chad we are providing a lifeline for girls and boys fleeing the conflict in Sudan to continue their studies in quality learning environments, where they can find a sense of safety and hope in a world turned upside down by war and chaos.

For far too long, progress toward sustainable development across much of Africa has been faced with obstacles for generations after generations. The time has come and education cannot wait. Africa deserves to achieve its unlimited potential.

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