By Jutta Urpilainen and Sarah
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the learning crisis in Africa by severely limiting access education. By early April 2020, the crisis had left more than 20 million pre-primary, 160 million primary, 56 million secondary, and eight million tertiary-level learners out of school with no access to continued learning and teaching facilities across the continent.
Our people are the most important resource we have. In the next 15 years, 450 million young Africans will be looking to either find or create a job for themselves. Will they be able to build a career in one of the emerging sectors? Will they have the right skills and competences to meet the evolving demands of the labour market? The answer is yes – yes, if we act now.
It is crucial that we invest in the future and allocate adequate funds to education today, enabling the necessary reforms. The European Union (EU) intends to increase spending on education in partner countries covered by the International Partnerships portfolio from 7% to 10%. The African Union (AU) encourages its member states to increase their budget allocations for education, and to improve overall domestic resource mobilisation. Mobilising more resources and improving spending are central to quality education systems and to improving resilience to future shocks.
There is also a need to innovate the development, provision and delivery of education at all levels, taking advantage of digital learning. The Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) emphasises the need to harness the capacity of ICT to improve access, quality and management of education and training systems in Africa. There is no doubt that digital learning opportunities have immense potential to transform education and training through greater accessibility, affordability, and relevance. Furthermore, hybrid learning models and the application of modern technologies in other aspects of education beyond delivery is essential to guarantee the quality of learning, while reducing inefficiencies.
Partnerships will be another key part of the solution – including partnerships with civil society, the private sector, and global education partners. In the new EU–Africa Strategy, under “Partnership for sustainable growth and jobs”, the European Union aims to focus on education, skills, research and innovation in Africa. This means improving access to inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
Partnerships will be sought for developing innovative approaches and improving learning outcomes that can meet future demands, including in emerging fields such as the digital sector and green and climate-friendly technologies. The EU will focus on supporting the availability and quality of teachers at all levels of education – it is estimated that around 17 million teachers will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 to achieve universal primary and secondary education.
The EU is committed to working with its member states in a “Team Europe” spirit to deliver maximum impact. In Mozambique, for example, the EU and member states are preparing an ‘E-YOUTH’ Initiative, which will help better match competence-based vocational education and training with the needs of the market, so that young Mozambicans can access jobs more easily. The Initiative will also empower girls and women by supporting them to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of study, and by promoting coding.
Promoting innovations that safeguard gender responsive education and education for refugees, persons living with disabilities and special needs, and those living in underserved communities should also be prioritised in order to ensure these children are not disproportionately affected by the current changes in education delivery. Adopting sustainable innovations in education delivery and management in Africa means improving education quality for all, so that everyone can reach their full potential.
The education event “Building Skills for the Future” hosted by the AU, EU and UNICEF on April 20 marked a major milestone in the partnership of the EU and AU, and in our joint work on education. We fully agreed on the importance of quality, inclusive and equitable education for all, at all levels, and the critical importance of increased investment and partnerships in achieving that. Our joint actions will focus on strengthening education systems at all levels. We will pay particular attention to protecting the gains that Africa has made in addressing the learning crisis, to addressing inequalities in access and learning, and to matching skills with jobs. We will seek to harness the potential of digital learning and to build digital competencies while bridging the digital divide.
Decisions on the future relationship of our two continents will be taken at the EU-AU summit, but this we can say already today: education will be a top priority of our partnership, as the foundation for a successful, prosperous and sustainable future for both our continents.
•Urpilainen is the EU
Commissioner for International Partnerships; Prof. Anyang
Agbor is the AU Commissioner for Education, Science,
Technology and Innovation