A decade of schooling and not much learning: The worrying state of education in Africa

Africa is failing its young population in spectacular fashion according to the Ibrahim Index on Governance (IIAG) latest report.

So devastating was the analysis that one would have thought that an urgent African Union meeting should have been convened to discuss what is, without a doubt, the continent's most urgent and dire problem. Its release came just weeks after the Gates Foundation offered another depressing assessment of the continent’s future. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria alone, the Gates report said, are forecast to be home to more than 40% of the extremely poor people in the world by 2050 at a time when one in four human beings in the world will be African. Depressingly, there's little to offer hope for the continent that is equal to the task at hand. The last decade alone shows that African governance progress is lagging behind demographic growth and youth expectations according to the IIAG report. This absence of a hands-on, strategic focus has hit the education sector so hard. The worst performance score is a result of a system that has buckled after neglect for a long time. “When you have poor teachers you get a poor education. When you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor-paying job. And that poor paying job enables you to live again in a poor neighbourhood. So, it is a very vicious circle," Malcolm X said.

A diagnosis that captures aptly the state of education in Africa, but how did we get here? The current education crisis can be traced back to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 2000-2015, the noble UN goal to achieve universal education for all. The program was, however, a boon for African leaders desperate to score public relations scores to enter the good books of western benefactors. While the number of school enrolment sky-rocketed the quality of education took a nose dive. But even when the strain was clear, what mattered most to some African leaders was the glowing reviews that the governments were getting to the detriment of the education of millions of schoolchildren. Some leaders became cavalier with what should be a sacred role, as a custodian of public education, and in some cases allowed private businesses to step in to take over the critical role, sometimes using questionable teaching ideas.

Only a few years ago, Bridge International Academies (BIA) were expelled from Uganda for failing to provide adequate education. Strangely, BIA was however handed a contract to run state schools in Liberia a year later. Now that there is unprecedented demographic growth in Africa; education needs to reform to meet the current population growth. The report gloomily shows that; “the youthful potential workforce that could have transformed the continent for better is close to being squared”. What even depresses an ardent optimist is that the education outcomes do not meet the skills of existing market and business needs. Rwanda which performed well on overall human development put education reform at the heart of their Vision 2020. Their education policy was based on quality, technology-led and post basic education skills. What many interventions have unfortunately ignored is that problems in education start even before students enter class rooms; malnutrition and parental illiteracy affects educational outcomes. Teaching is also at the heart of learning this crisis. 66% of Nigerian teachers could not score 75% in an exam set for pupils aged 10. It's not just Nigeria, the index shows that other countries with comparatively big populations and GDP are not doing well either. African leaders have for decades lagged behind on investing in skills, we are now walking eyes open to tech-future ill-equipped, uninformed and worryingly unprepared. Even this being a sad fact, some African governments are still obsessed with flashy projects- spending billions on school laptop projects. Wowing electorate with such projects may seem fashionable to the electorate but; it’s simply campaign tact. It’s even questionable whether African leaders have local education at heart. Leaders continue to educate their children in private schools abroad. Puzzling indeed, some leaders are still playing the number game. Recently, President George Weah of Liberia announced free university education to all undergraduates. It may be a good politicking gesture, however, what are the opportunities for would-be undergraduates upon graduation? Only four years ago Liberia did not pass any students to university, and now the president has offered free for all. The deteriorating state of education should not be surprising; teachers are themselves a product of the environment they operate in which is ‘lived poverty’ a serious lack of means. There is poor pay and poor working conditions to start with, and this situation in all likelihood incentivises corruption of which the knock-on effect is detrimental to the whole education system. For a long time, education in Africa has been based on an idea that students get and remember information from teachers and textbooks. This idea is short of the fact that all knowledge is useless unless it’s used creatively. Promoting skills-based education has to be prioritised over just gaining knowledge. As Einstein put; “imagination is more important than knowledge”. If a person knows many facts, it is just impressive but not very useful. In an era of technology, business today require information management skills and innovations; skills that are more desired by businesses.

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