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    Make or break for education in Africa

    July 26, 2020

    Learning the basics: schoolchildren in Zanzibar

     Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

    AS delegates prepare to attend the Global Education Summit in London on July 28 and 29, African governments have been given a stark warning: make their spending on education more efficient to better transform young lives.

    Currently, many of these governments spend around five per cent of GDP on education, the second highest of any region, according to the African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook 2020.

    However, this figure does not translate into reality.

    The AfDB Outlook says that Africa has the worst education spending efficiency of all regions: 58 per cent for primary education and 42 per cent for secondary education, both more than 20 percentage points lower than the second worst performing region.

    Thus, when the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) convenes its Summit, which will be co-hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the message is: ensure that local public expenditure in Africa really delivers.

    The Summit is looking to raise $5 billion to fund the next five-year cycle of the GPE to provide learning for 175 million girls and boys, get 88 million more children in school, and reach 140 million more students with professionally trained teachers in 87 low- and middle-income countries, 35 of which are in Africa.

    Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is Chairman-elect of the GPE, noted recently: “Africa is facing a crossroads: allow the education crisis to become a generational catastrophe or invest in education as a means to a more prosperous future for all.”

    The crisis has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely affected learning cross sub-Saharan Africa.

    Kikwete said: “The ravages of the pandemic are worsening a pre-existing learning crisis.

    “Africa is the world region with the highest out-of-school rates, the highest rates of exclusion, and the highest adolescent pregnancy rates.

    “In many countries, children have missed at least 20 weeks of school – the equivalent of half an academic year.

    “Only one in five children in Africa can read and understand a simple story by their 10th birthday,” he added.

    He believes that the answer to this crisis is for African leaders to “‘raise their hands’ and pledge to maintain their education budgets at pre-COVID levels and work towards a global target of allocating at least 20 per cent of public spending to education”.

    Before the pandemic, many African countries were meeting the global benchmark of 20 per cent for domestic spending on education but since the health crisis some of these countries have cut their public education budgets.

    Although the GPE is ramping up international funding for education over the next five years, Kikwete makes it clear about where the majority of such financing for schoolchildren in Africa should come from: “African governments are the principal source of education funding,” he said.

    “Domestic budgets finance teachers’ training and salaries, school infrastructure and maintenance, provision of learning materials, and administration and management of the education system.

    “Therefore, only governments can turn the tide of Africa’s learning crisis into a wave of opportunity.”

    In the run-up to the London Summit, world leaders made a commitment to ensure “equity in access to quality education, including making available resources reach the most marginalised children, especially girls”.

    “We commit to prioritising gender equity, with a specific commitment to improving girls’ education and increasing investments for the inclusion of children with disabilities or other historically excluded groups,” their statement said.

    “We commit to placing greater emphasis on improving learning outcomes in our education systems, and employing new techniques and methodologies that have been proven to yield better results for our students.

    “We recognise the role of technology in improving learning outcomes and commit to leveraging technology-supported learning to improve equity in access to education and to close the prevailing global digital divide,” the leaders added.

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