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AU, UNESCO seek action on 100 million out-of-school children

The African Union (AU) and the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have expressed concerns over the alarming number of out-of-school children in Africa.…

The African Union (AU) and the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have expressed concerns over the alarming number of out-of-school children in Africa.

At least 100 million children on the continent are on the verge of losing what renowned civil rights activist Malcolm X called their “passport to the future”—education.

The urgent need to reverse this ugly trend through collective actions at different levels informs the choice of ‘Educate an African Fit for the 21st Century’ as the AU theme of the year 2024.

The role of the media is central to the roadmap. And this was the highlight of a side event on the theme of the year at the 3rd African Media Convention held in Accra, Ghana, between May 15 and 17, 2024.

“We anticipate very important contributions from the media in the implementation of the theme. We also need an educated, well-trained, competent, and efficient media fit for the 21st century to be able to contribute to the promotion of education on the continent,” said Adiatou Fatty, communications lead of the Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI) unit at the AU Commission.

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He lamented that gains made in education on the continent had been eroded over the past few years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Africa lagging behind in meeting the education target of the sustainable development goals.

“About 100 million children in Africa who are of school age are not going to school. 86% of children who are 10 cannot read and comprehend simple texts. This is quite appalling compared to other parts of the world. This situation calls for urgent actions from African education stakeholders to come together to strategise and bring education to the fore.

“Basically, the theme of the year is a call to action to address the alarming state of education on the continent. It is a clarion call to revitalise the education system on the continent while extending attention to particular demographic groups such as children in rural areas, people living with disabilities, and people in fragile situations,” Fatty said.

The theme also speaks to challenges in education financing, advocating for adequate funding of better education facilities and architecture within the continent. Critical actors in the implementation of the theme include the AU Commission, AU member states, regional economic communities, education system stakeholders, development partners, the media, the private sector, and Africans in the Diaspora, Fatty disclosed.

“The AU formulated the digital education strategy for Africa. It is a framework to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies in education. The strategy envisions a continent where citizens have the digital competencies needed to thrive in the digital age.

“We have an AU virtual university. The idea is to leverage digital technologies to bring education to the doorsteps of students and professionals all over the continent. Digital literacy and skills are expected to be the core competencies of each media professional. Without that, we do not see how the media can contribute effectively to the digital economy we seek.

“The roadmap for the implementation of the theme of the year focuses on reforming the teaching profession and sustainable investment and financing of education, especially STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. It also focuses on technical and vocational education, innovative and sustainable digital learning, home-grown school feeding, improving education management, among others,” he said.


Preparing African youths for the future

UNESCO is a key partner in the quest for the actualisation of the AU theme of the year on education, involving in the drafting of the concept note as well as the roadmap for the theme, said Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

She explained that UNESCO had come up with a list of activities with all the partners within and outside the continent on what to be done during the year for member states to understand the urgency of addressing education problems.

“We have over 100 million children out of school on our continent; we don’t have enough teachers; we need about 70 million teachers in Africa. It is time for UNESCO, in collaboration with the African Union, to make a case for increasing expenditure on education, to make sure our youths are ready for the world of tomorrow.

“We should not forget that by 2040, around one-third of our youths will be on the labour market in the world. This means we need to ensure, in the next 15 years, that our youth get the competencies, skills, and values to be able to get on the labour market and access different jobs,” Bissoonauth stated.

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Dr. Rita Bissoonauth

According to her, UNESCO is equally working on education as the gateway to sustainable development, thereby enabling the youth to be more conscious of the impact of climate change.

“On our continent today, we have major floods and droughts impacting on the education of the children. We have a lot of out-of-school children due to climate change. In UNESCO, we are trying to ensure that climate change is a cross-cutting issue, involving not just science but also the media, communication, and education to build our resilience,” she added.


Education and Agenda 2063

In her remarks, Honourable Poloko Nuggert Ntshwarang, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, emphasised the indispensable role of education towards realisation of the AU’s Agenda 2063, which seeks a prosperous and peaceful Africa.

She described education as a cornerstone in human capital development, equipping young Africans with the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary for their personal growth and success across various sectors such as agriculture, industry, technology, entrepreneurship, science, the arts, and culture.

“It empowers them to actively participate in society’s development processes and enables them to become agents of change and contribute towards Africa’s transformation. Education also fosters innovation and research endeavours, addressing critical challenges on the continent such as healthcare, climate change adaptation, technological advancements, and other issues.

“Importantly, it also facilitates the promotion of African history, culture, languages, and values, which will help foster solidarity, integration, and cooperation among African nations,” Ntshwarang said.

She re-emphasised the right to education for children as outlined in Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, noting that the provisions not only recognise the right to education but also impose an obligation on state parties to take legislative, administrative, and judicial measures.

“The right to education is not only a substantive right; it also facilitates the realisation of other rights. While many African countries have enacted laws and policies to ensure access to quality education for all children, achieving universal education across Africa remains a significant challenge. Factors such as poverty, inadequate infrastructure, a lack of qualified teachers, gender disparities, conflict, and instability contribute to this challenge.

“The Committee has given special attention to the right to education of children. To this end, it established a Special Rapporteur on Education with the mandate to identify major challenges related to the provision of education, engage with various stakeholders on issues of education, and take the lead in the development of various principles,” she added.

In alignment with the AU theme of the year, Ntshwarang said the Committee declared ‘Education for all children in Africa: the time is now’ as the theme for the 2024 Day of the African Child.

“This theme underscores the right to education without discrimination as provided under the Charter, emphasising the urgent need to address emerging challenges,” she concluded.


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