Will Africa scale up to 21st century needs?

Author:Jere, Regina Jane
Position:Education - Conference notes
 
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Education, as the key to development and prosperity, has provoked and dominated debate in post-independent Africa for more than 50 years now. Yet by and large, educational deprivation still consigns Africa to the bottom of world rankings. And with the world increasingly becoming knowledge and skills-driven, high-tech based and more competitive in the jobs marketplace, questions as to whether Africa will ever successfully cater for 21st-century educational needs, provoke serious debate and concern, writes our deputy editor Regina Jane Jere, who attended the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) held in the Qatari capital, Doha last month.

It's becoming a popular mantra: "If you think education is costly, try ignorance." And while former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a passionate call for a Global Fund for Education (just as there is one for health) at the WISE summit in early November, the sobering fact remains: Africa is paying heavily for the cost of a lack of adequate education. The jury could still be out, but the educational landscape in Africa, although some improvement can be noted, remains gloomy, by and large.

The WISE summit had no Africa-centred theme per se and there were dissatisfied voices from some delegates, who believe Africa was not adequately represented, particularly at the main speakers7 level. But the pragmatic consensus among those New African spoke to, was that education remains a fundamental building block for development in Africa and to achieve this, it must become widely available across the continent, no matter the cost. And yes, one question on most delegates' minds was: Why has Africa remained at the bottom of the pile in terms of educational advancement, and can new innovations as championed by WISE, really lift the continent from its long-standing malaise in educational standards and systems?

The chairman of WISE himself, Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, who notes this paucity, told New African: "I think when we look at what is happening in the world today, and in particular in developing African countries, it is clear that the need for innovation in education has never been so urgent. Access to high quality education is the most pressing need as 32 million children remain out of school in Africa."

This is a sad fact and a rather unpalatable statistic. But Africa can't bury its head in the sand. The need for better educational standards and new innovative ways to improve the status quo is not only real but couldn't be greater. According to Dr bin Ali Al-Thani, over the next 20 years, the population of sub-Saharan Africa's 5 to 14-year-olds is expected to grow by more than 34%. This means the region will need to respond to the demands of 77 million new students! But in a continent where 50 years after independence, half of school-age girls, for example, do not receive formal education, the task ahead may seem insurmountable.

Naledi Pandor, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology (perhaps Africa's highest-ranking representative at the summit) who was a panellist for the opening session of the three-day summit, whose theme was Changing Societies, Changing Education, admits that realising the Millennium...

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