Speaking at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Ministerial Conference on Education Post-2015, Julia Gillard, Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, urged world leaders to strengthen support for the efforts of African nations to build sustainable education systems that are capable of delivering quality schooling to more children. She also stressed as priorities to expand the role of education in emergencies, create equity for girls and disadvantaged children and step up the collection of critical education data.
The conference brings to Kigali leaders from Africa and other parts of the world to assess Africa’s progress on the 25-year-old Education for All goals. Building consensus around Africa-specific education priorities under the soon-to-be-inaugurated sustainable development goals is another top item on the agenda. The conference is hosted by the UNESCO Regional Offices for the Sahel (Dakar) and Eastern Africa (Nairobi), the Government of Rwanda, the African Union Commission, UNICEF and other partners.
Noting that the Global Partnership for Education has provided significant funding to support education in Africa over the past decade, Ms. Gillard pledged that “we will continue to invest in the knowledge, south-south learning and innovation for the post-2015 era to come.”
“We must also ensure that there is a strong focus on the relevant skills that will equip Africa’s future generations to build strong and peaceful nations,” she added. “We must focus on the learning crisis and invest more in our teachers.”
Building on Recent Progress
In a joint OpEd article with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO in The New Times, a leading Rwandan newspaper, the two education champions further spelled out a vision for education’s future in Africa over the next 15 years.
While much of Africa - and, notably, Rwanda – has made major strides in education over the past two decades, they wrote, “the situation remains fragile across the continent, and, in many areas, the momentum of the past decade has stalled. We need to kick-start the movement again and prevent the hard-won gains from being lost.”
Ms. Gillard and Ms. Bokova also noted that 30 million of the world’s 58 million out-of-school children of primary school age live in Sub-Saharan Africa and that girls account for more than 50% of this group. Together, they called for continued international community efforts to provide sufficient funding for building and maintaining education systems across the continent.
They also cited widespread conflict, fragility and crises such as the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa as major impediments to educating Africa’s children.
“These are daunting realities. But we must not forget that education is both a basic human right and a smart investment. It is important that organizations like the Global Partnership for Education, which is working to improve education for the world’s poorest, continue to focus on these fragile and often conflict-affected countries. Almost half of the Global Partnership’s funding in 2014 went to countries that fall into this category,” they wrote.
Ms. Gillard and Ms. Bokova highlighted that Rwanda has been a notable success story, pointing out that the country’s “investment in education reduced the number of out-of-school primary aged children from 15% in 2002 to 1.3% in 2012,” that its “primary school net enrollment rate rose from 85% in 2002 to 99% in 2012” and that “the nation’s gross enrollment in lower secondary schools has tripled in a decade.”