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We must respond to the call by the African Union: Educate an Africa Fit for the 21st century

Education Cannot Wait's Executive Director Yasmine Sherif's statement on Africa Day 2024


We must respond to the call by the African Union: Educate an Africa Fit for the 21st century

Africa is an amazingly beautiful continent with a powerful young generation who have the inherent right to an inclusive and continued quality education. Yet – and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa – they have been left furthest behind for far too long. Now is the time to right the wrongs.


As we celebrate Africa Day, we call on all leaders in Africa – and all world leaders globally – to support the African Union's Call to Educate an Africa Fit for the 21st century and make good on the global promises of universal education as outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


More than 60 years ago, African leaders gathered in Ghana for the First Congress of African States. Five years later, on 25 May 1963 – with nearly two-thirds of the continent achieving their longed-for independence – leaders met again in Ethiopia to form the Organisation of African Unity. From these early days, the African Union was born in 2002 with the noble vision to create "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena."


While progress has been made over the past two decades in delivering on these goals, Africa continues to fall behind in meeting many of the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda. Think about this, "In 1990, 14% of the world's poor lived in Africa; by 2019, this number jumped to 57%," according to the World Bank.


Economic interests and a sense of scarcity – in spite of a continent rich in resources – these diametrically opposed positions tend to lead to conflict and human rights abuses. The brunt of this is born by children, families, teachers and communities in countries like Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, South Sudan and Sudan.


Schools, children and teachers are being increasingly targeted. "The number of violent incidents affecting education in Africa Union countries rose by 20% in 2023 with 411 reports of violent incidents," according to Save the Children.


Furthermore, climate change is compounding these painful realities putting even more girls and boys in harm's way. According to Education Cannot Wait's recent analysis on the impacts of climate change on education, "Over the last decade, more than 91 million school-aged children impacted by crises have faced climate shocks amplified by climate change worldwide. The effects have been particularly pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting 42 million children. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where climate-related crises are prevalent, internally displaced children are 1.7 times more likely to be out of primary school compared to their non-displaced peers. Girls are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, with a higher likelihood of dropping out of school and being forced into early marriages."


While the challenges before us are enormous, there is hope if we take collective, responsible and global action to right the wrongs now.


It starts with embracing the values and commitments outlined in the UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. The people of Africa deserve no less. Their rights must be guaranteed with an emphasis on their right to an inclusive, equitable, quality education, as the very foundation for all other rights.


Together with our strategic donor partners, and through ECW's investments in partnerships and joint programming (ECW Multi-Year Resilience Programmes) in Africa, we work closely with Ministries of Education and connect a wide array of local and international partners, governments, non-profits and the private sector to deliver unified programming that breaks down silos and delivers quality with impact.


These programmes provide holistic education – the kind of education that the Global North enjoys, such as mental health and psychosocial support, academic learning, school feeding programmes, teacher training and incentives, back-to-school programmes and catch-up classes, vocational training, early childhood education and more – to ensure that African children and adolescents can access true, quality education.


However, we must urgently increase funding for education. Nowhere is this more true than in Africa's forgotten crises in places like the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan. According to ECW's strategic partner Educo, "In Mali, all regions of the country have been affected by attacks on schools by armed groups throughout 2023 forcing their closure. In all, 1,170 schools have closed, affecting more than half a million children and 10,260 teachers. Despite this growing and deteriorating context, the education sector has received the least amount of funding, so that only 16% of the identified students have been reached. In 2023, only 7.4% of the US$96 million appeal has been covered."


If Africa is to deliver on the promises envisaged 60 years ago for "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa," it must enjoy the rights and resources to focus on educating every girl and boy. A continent that has produced global personalities like Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu among so many other profoundly educated leaders is a continent with great promises for all of us. With a quality education, many more young people will step out of the shadows in Africa and bring the kind of humanity we so desperately need in the world today.


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