African leaders place less emphasis on education and it’s worrisome

Education in Africa has consistently been a secondary discussion. As long as it’s not politics and the economy, it is viewed as a discussion for ‘another day’. It used to be that because we had external ‘forces’ halting far reaching education in Africa, so nations on the continent remain in the third world category, and the story won’t change. But, African leaders have yet come to terms with the fact that education is indispensable; especially if progressive development is an agenda.

On a historical note, we will notice that extremist groups have continued to evolve because it’s members are usually easily manipulated. Political propaganda, fake news, etc, thrives because literacy is almost non-existent. And while we blame poverty as the root cause of unrest and continental extremism, we should also consider the input of illiteracy in all of this.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is universal, holistic and indivisible, with a special imperative to leave no one behind. The achievement of SDG 4 – ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – plays a central role in building sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies. While education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is most explicitly formulated as a stand-alone goal (SDG4), it also has reciprocal linkages across the 2030 Agenda. There are a number of education-related targets and indicators in other SDGs, including health and well-being (Target 3.7), gender equality (Target 5.6), decent work (Target 8.6), responsible consumption and growth (Target 12.8), and climate change mitigation (Target 13.3),” Discussion on SDG 4 – Quality education (Tuesday, July 9, 2019).

Concepts like ‘sustainable development’ appear anytime there is a discussion on education, and we already realise that responsible leadership is incomplete when national and sub-national literacy is not on the agenda. And with the coronavirus pandemic, African leaders have turned – almost totally – away from the discussion.

Indeed, Africa’s leaders have their hands full: rising COVID-19 infections, fragile health systems, increasing food insecurity, and, in some areas, growing social unrest. And as government revenues dry up amid the continent’s sharpest economic contraction in decades, the resources available to address these challenges are dwindling.

However, the pandemic is revealing startling divides in digitally-based distance learning, data from the UN education and cultural agency, UNESCO, and partners has revealed. They found that half of all students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally — do not have access to a computer. Additionally, more than 40 per cent have no Internet access at home.

191 countries have had to shut down schools, affecting at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary teachers. Disparities in distance education are particularly evident in low-income countries. Nearly 90 per cent of students in sub-Saharan Africa do not have household computers while 82 per cent are unable to get online. And although having a mobile phone can support young learners, in accessing information or connecting with their teachers, for example, around 56 million live in areas that are not served by mobile networks; almost half in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are reports of a possible second wave of the coronavirus, indicating that COVID-19 will remain with us longer than anticipated – translating to stayed closure of schools – and raises the question: what are African leaders doing to ensure children are not lost from their education?

The Kenya government have locked down a handful of counties including the capital Nairobi and imposed a night-time curfew as part of containment efforts. Primary and secondary school students in Kenya will only return to school in 2021, the Education Ministry announced on Tuesday morning. The decision is based on the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic in the East African country. There are over 8,000 confirmed cases as at June 6.

On Monday, thousands of South African students returned to their schools after nearly four months when their classes were closed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. South Africa’s government had won a legal challenge permitting it to proceed with reopening schools. The lawsuit had said that schools should remain closed because of the danger of the disease spreading among learners and teachers.

The concerns about the spread of the coronavirus remains, centering around the argument that the students could continue learning from their homes, again raising the question of unavailable infrastructure to ensure the success of such a venture. But, it is not a ‘government-do-it’ project, the private and public sector need to look beyond stopping the spread of the virus.

Online education is not news in Africa. How about that system is given more boost? How about private and public schools go digital? How about African leaders do more in the education sector?

“To lessen already existing inequalities, we must also support other alternatives including the use of community radio and television broadcasts, and creativity in all ways of learning,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General.

In late March, UNESCO and partners launched the Global Educational Coalition to develop solutions to make digital learning more inclusive. Objectives include helping countries to mobilise resources to provide remote education through hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches. The Coalition consists of 90 public and private partners which include the ITU, sister UN agency the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and other entities which support teachers.

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