Africa’s top 5 education priorities
Education in Africa faces numerous obstacles, from a scarcity of schools and supplies to untrained teachers and children too hungry to concentrate. Below we identify the top 5 requirements for Africa to propel its education, and consequently its socioeconomic growth, into the next phase of development.
Improved primary and secondary education
Key to Africa’s development is good quality, universal school-level education for all.
At present Africa is dealing with a brutal combo: its school enrolment rate is the lowest in the world while its dropout rate is the highest. While one doesn’t expect the same figures as the developed world, Africa lags far behind the rest of the developing world too; in 2010 Sub-Saharan Africa’s overall enrolment rate was 17% compared with 48% in South Asia, 57% in East Asia and 70% in Latin America. Mass failings are another huge problem, with a high proportion of students throughout the contient graduating with an education that does not adequately equip them for the working world or tertiary education.
One option to help remedy the situation is to lengthen the primary education cycle and to home in on the core subjects in order to better prepare those who will not continue on to secondary education. Having said that, secondary education still needs to be prioritised along with primary education. Subject curricula need updating and should also be revised to include context-specific subjects; for example, if the youth are to be encouraged to engage in farming – and they should since Africa has the world’s largest proportion of uncultivated arable land – then a curriculum that encourages and equips them for that career should be given attention.
Governments need to promote the importance of education and allocate more of their national spending to the sector. Encouragingly uneducated and little educated African parents frequently place high priority on educating their children, however there are many who don’t understand or act according to the value of education and national policy and education campaigns are critical to changing this.
Private investment into primary and secondary education is also key to its development, as is buy-in from all other stakeholders. Substantial investments made by wealthy individuals – like the hundreds of millions from Aliko Dangote, Strive Masiyiwa and Nicky Oppenheimer – are also important.
Improved basic education among adults
In many countries the legacy of colonialism means a large portion of the population was denied an equitable education and so is unable to read and write. Poverty and conflict are two other major causes of illiteracy, not to mention innumeracy.
An illiterate and innumerate adult population is lethal to national development; they cannot understand and sign a basic contract, calculate budgets, read the labels on medication, read up on their rights, and so on. This situation needs to be addressed through second-chance education programmes, such as night school and community literacy projects, which allow adults to attain the education they missed out on as youths. Key again to this development is participation by the private sector. Offering labourers and other low-level employees literacy classes is one possible way of educating the adult population.
More and better trained teachers
Africa lacks sufficient teachers and moreover many of those teachers are not properly trained. Rural areas in particular have a deficit of skilled and motivated teachers.
Online and offline teacher support networks are required. Teachers need access to lesson plans, worksheets, Q&A forums, learning resources, up-to-date information, pedagogy insights, and more.
Moreover Africa needs teachers who are going to not only teach but also encourage students to believe in themselves and a better future. Hopelessness and its consequent apathy are key issues to combat in depressed areas. To do this, teachers engaging with pupils in communities of extreme poverty – where often social issues such as neglect, alcoholism, crime and illness are rife – require support networks to help them cope with the strain.
More and better education infrastructure and learning materials
The reasons for Africa’s low enrolment and high dropout and failure figures are many, so combatting them will require a multi-pronged approach. Firstly there needs to be more and better school buildings, particularly in the underserviced rural areas, which requires funding. Transport is also key, as those who live rurally are often kept from an education through distance, and those living in rough urban areas should have safe transport options. This means good roads, communal transport such as school buses, and in some cases the creation of commuting networks. Other facilities are also required, such as libraries, computer labs, sports fields. Without adequate infrastructure and learning materials good teachers are also hard to attract, especially in rural areas.
Most of Africa’s public schools then require better stock, from books and textbooks to computers, projectors and more. In some areas electricity is needed. In primary schools in particular posters, paint and other simple measures are required to make the schools places that inspire learning and creativity.
Proper nutrition is essential to mental wellness and attentiveness, particularly when young. Feeding programmes at schools are needed in poorer communities, where students are often too hungry to focus. A guaranteed lunch every day will not only help children with concentration but also be an encouragement to them and their parents for them to stay in school.
Enhanced internet connections and computer literacy
For African education to attain global standards students need to be able to access the internet, thereby equipping them them to compete in a knowledge-based global economy. To do this they need (1) internet connection (which requires electricity or Wi-Fi), (2) a device that can connect to it, albeit a computer, laptop, mobile phone, etc., and (3) the skills to know how to navigate the web.
Mobile telephony is the most obvious and arguably most practical means of connecting Africans to the internet given its high adoption rate throughout the continent. Africa has roughly 800 million mobile phone subscriptions compared with just 13 million landlines, with the geographic penetration of the former far outweighing that of the latter (landline facilities are in fact non-existent in large swathes of the continent).
A multi-stakeholder approach is the only viable one to improving Africa’s education. In the words of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, education is “the single best investment” countries can make if they want to build “prosperous, healthy and equitable societies”.