Education for all: Addressing Africa’s urgent educational challenges

Africa, home to over 1.3 billion people, is a continent rich in diversity, culture, and potential. Yet, it faces significant challenges, particularly in the education sector. According to UNESCO, Globally, 16 % of children and youth (covering primary to upper secondary) are not attending school. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for close to 30 % of all out-of-school children globally. Although huge progress has been made in the last 20 years on access to school, the region unfortunately remains the worst performing globally on learning, with 9 out of ten 10 children unable to read with understanding and do basic mathematics by age 10 (World Bank, 2022). Furthermore, the continent’s education system is marked by severe disparities: girls are 1.5 times more likely to be excluded from primary education compared to boys, and children in rural areas are twice as likely to be out of school as those in urban areas.

This educational crisis has far-reaching implications. Limited access to quality education perpetuates cycles of poverty, restricts economic growth, and undermines social stability. The consequences are particularly unfavourable for vulnerable populations, including girls, children with disabilities, and those living in conflict zones. With the continent’s youth population expected to constitute 42% of global youth, the urgency to address these educational gaps has never been greater.

Every year, on June 16th, the world observes the international day of the African Child, a reminder of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, where thousands of black schoolchildren in South Africa protested against the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. This day not only commemorates those who lost their lives but also serves as a call to action for advancing the rights of African children. In 2024, the theme “Education for all children in Africa: the time is now” and declaration as the African Union “Year of Education” underscores an urgent imperative to address the systemic barriers that continue to impede universal access to quality education across the continent which would require collaborative interventions from government and private stakeholders.

Oando Foundation, an independent charity established to support the Nigerian government in achieving its Universal Basic Education goal, through its earlier Adopt-A-School strategy has increased access and improved quality of basic education delivery in 88 adopted schools across 23 states in Nigeria, deploying a multifaceted approach that targeted education infrastructure, scholarships, in-depth teacher support and learning innovation, which transformed learning outcomes for pupils and delivered basic education dividends at community level. Over a decade, the Foundation educated 1million+ indigent and vulnerable children across economically marginalized communities, implementing 172 education-focused projects in 93 communities.

Now saddled with the prevailing magnitude of learning crisis in Sub-Saharan African, including Nigeria, that requires urgent action at scale to ensure children achieve foundational learning skills. Also reckoning that Africa’s ability to capitalize on the prosperity embedded in its people and potential to build resilience to new threats like climate change, is deeply dependent on its ability to harness its youth dividend through focused investments in human capital, starting at the early years as a critical foundation; Oando Foundation launched its new strategy, LEARNOVATE.

The new strategy prioritizes innovation and investments in foundational learning that creates better life opportunities for children and youth through equitable, quality, and climate-sensitive education. With a specific focus on foundational literacy and numeracy skills mastery, green skills development, and sector thought leadership, the program objectives align closely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for quality education, affordable and clean energy, climate action, as well as industry innovation and infrastructure.

UNESCO has defined literacy as “the capacity to recognize, understand, interpret, produce, communicate, compute, and use printed materials related to various contexts.” (UNESCO, 2006), and numeracy includes the capacity to apply mathematical knowledge and abilities to resolve issues and fulfill daily needs in challenging social contexts. These competencies serve as the foundation for additional competencies, providing children with the building blocks to access higher-order abilities. Through the LEARNOVATE programme, Oando Foundation significantly provides direct child-centered support and institutional capacity strengthening, prioritizing in-service teacher training and mentoring, grade-appropriate instructional materials in mother tongue, performance assessments, and digital literacy skills.

Beyond basic education, environmental education is another LEARNOVATE priority. As the climate crisis intensifies, the next generation of African leaders and problem-solvers must understand sustainability principles and develop green skills to navigate the 21st century. Through green skills mastery, environmental challenges such as climate change, resource conservation, pollution reduction, and sustainable resource management are addressed. They play a crucial role in promoting a more eco-conscious and sustainable future.

An example is the Clean Our World project which has reached 47,000+ beneficiaries in 54 public primary schools across 25 communities in Nigeria. Currently in its fourth phase, the project focuses on standardized lesson delivery through wide-scale capacity building for teachers, design and deployment of environmental educational materials, and various in-school climate action activities, laying the foundation for a cleaner, greener future.

Amidst the quest for educational reform, advocacy emerges as a powerful tool for driving systemic change and amplifying marginalized voices. Oando Foundation advocates for policies and practices that promote inclusive, quality basic education, advocating for the rights of every child to access learning opportunities irrespective of socio-economic background or geographic location. Through its convening role as Education Cluster Lead for the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG), among other platforms, the Foundation is championing increased private sector investment in basic education delivery, igniting a collective movement towards a brighter, more equitable future for all African children and youth.

In line with the theme of 2024 international day of the African Child, the call to ensure all African children are educated is upon all stakeholders — governments, NGOs, private sector partners, educators, and communities — to unlock the potential of millions of children, fostering innovation, and driving the continent towards a prosperous and equitable future through their impactful initiatives and efforts.

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