Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the education crisis in West and Central Africa.
The pandemic has hampered efforts to increase enrollment rates: more than 101 million children could not attend school and had little access to distance education.
As countries rebuild their economies, there is an urgent need to act now to secure the future of our children. We call for a general mobilization of our societies to invest in better education systems.
The leaders of the region recognize the paramount importance of the education of our young girls and boys, and significant efforts have been made in this regard. Today, the average net primary school enrollment rate in the region is nearly 90%, a substantial increase from less than 50% in the 1990s. Similarly, secondary school enrollment has more than doubled over the past of the last decade.
However, the population of West and Central Africa is expected to double over the next 30 years, and significant challenges remain. More than 32 million children in the region are out of school. In addition, children who attend school do not always acquire the necessary knowledge or skills. Currently, 80% of children cannot read and understand simple text by age 10, and options for learning formal skills are limited.
To reverse this trajectory, urgent action is needed to advance education reforms and provide greater access to quality education for our children. This will require strong leadership, better implementation and more investment in high-impact interventions, including a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach.
We will not be able to bring about change without creating and maintaining political momentum in the region.
We are confident that our call will echo the Nouakchott Declaration of Heads of State at the Sahel Education Summit in December 2021.
The countries of the region must continue to increase their investments in education.
However, governments alone cannot close the financing gap and meet the massive and growing needs.
Many projects are already demonstrating the tremendous results that can be achieved when leadership and political will are accompanied by sufficient funding.
The free high school policy introduced by Ghana in 2017 is a good example of ensuring access, equity and quality in education. Similarly, Sierra Leone’s Free Quality School Education initiative launched in 2018 offers all children free admission to government-approved schools. Mali’s PRODEC 2, a comprehensive 10-year national education program, takes a holistic approach to continuing to improve the school system, despite closures due to conflict and insecurity, among other issues.
In Nigeria’s Edo State, the government is implementing a holistic approach that leverages technology and scripted lessons to improve teaching and learning outcomes.
Time and again, the peoples of West and Central Africa have proven their ability to learn from their experiences.
To deliver results at scale, we commit to ambitious goals and focus on: helping 30 million children read by 2030; ensure that 12.5 million more adolescent girls are in school by 2030; train 3.7 million additional young adults in life skills by 2025; and ensuring that one million more young people acquire digital skills by 2025, 60% of whom are expected to get better jobs.
For example, in Nigeria, the Better Education Service Delivery for All-BESDA project supports the integration of school-aged children who attend religious schools into government schools that teach the official curriculum.
In Senegal and The Gambia, the Early Childhood Investment for Human Development project is improving the nutrition and early stimulation of children, thereby improving teaching and learning. In addition, in 12 West and Central African countries, African Centers of Excellence (ACE) projects are addressing widespread skills shortages and mismatches by training postgraduate students. The projects also support the scaling up of research capacity and regional collaboration in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as in health and of farming.
Although more investment is urgently needed, it cannot achieve the much-needed transformation without a coordinated approach at the national level, as well as the participation of all concerned parties. In many countries of the region, further efforts are needed to streamline the governance of education systems in order to achieve greater coherence, cooperation and coordination.
Recognizing the diversity of our societies, our languages and our educational practices, we must also ensure that our projects are developed in an inclusive way. All stakeholders must be involved in a high dialogue so that we can have a common language and therefore consistency in defining the objectives that we must achieve.
The dynamism and spirit of innovation of our young people are our greatest assets and hold great promise for our region. Only we can harness the demographic dividend, but only if our young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to realize their full potential and ensure social justice and mobility for all. Our young people deserve a better education.
Their interests must come first. Only then can the region be transformed vigorously.
Source-Africa Youth news