While Africa continues to revel in optimistic hope, why is it that education on the continent still largely lags behind? Delegates and decision-makers who converged at the WISE Forum in Accra recently sought to find answers. reGina Jane Jere was there.
Since its creation in 2009 the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) footprint into Africa has been growing – culminating into the US $500,000 WISE Prize for Education 2017 –being awarded to Ghanaian educationist Patrick Awuah.
Dr Awuah, founder of Ghana’s Ashesi University College – one of Africa’s leading private education institutions is the first African laureate of what is considered the biggest education accolade in the world, often labelled the “Nobel Prize” for Education.
In 2016 WISE started hosting one day regional Forums dubbed WISE@ in key cities around the world, and it was fitting therefore, that on in May, WISE@Accra came to the Ghanaian capital to join Dr Awuah and other high profile speakers, for a full day of dialogue on the state of education in Africa today.
“In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 34 million children, 27 million adolescents and 36 million youth of school going age are out of school. A total of a staggering 97 million,” was one of the realities highlighted by Ghana’s Minister of Education in a keynote speech he gave on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo.
“We cannot continue to be a scar on the conscience of the world. As leaders of this continent, we need to put in place robust measures and bankable policies to ensure that our young people stay and contribute to the development of the continent. We certainly cannot continue to be dependent on foreign aid. We need to build an Africa Beyond Aid – an Africa that exemplifies the true spirit of its peoples, working towards a common goal of better existence. A central element of what must be our strong desire to build the Africa Beyond Aid begins with quality education – it is the lifeblood of development and prosperity,” stressed the Ghanaian leader.
However, Africans and their governments must do more in how they priotise and champion education and its policies, contended attendee and panelist Aïcha Bah Diallo, a former minister of education in Guinea and former Assistant Director General for Education in UNESCO.
“ We need to make education as fun, popular and as sexy as football is in Africa,” she said stressing further: “And it must also be drummed into everyone that education is a right every African is entitled to. It is also important for governments to sure that they make their citizens aware that education is not just their right, but is also their duty to pursue it.”
According to WISE, by 2050, more than half of the world’s population growth will occur in Africa and the continent will also be home to 40% of all children in the world.
Pragmatic consensus therefore is that providing quality education to equip this burgeoning demographic with tools that should tackle current and future challenges is a global imperative. But so is the issue of providing sustainable solutions to Africa’s burdened education systems and needs.
“Sustainable solutions to Africa’s educational needs is a key point, but getting the basics right, is even more critical. I do not think Africa, and actually the world at large, can afford to have hundreds of millions of young people coming of age without having the fundamentals, such as basic numeracy and literacy. I think it can potentially be catastrophic for the world and it has implications beyond economies, beyond education. The implications could affect security, social justice and much more. It is an issue therefore that we all collectively have to tackle as we consider the best sustainable solutions to educational needs. Additionally, with almost half of the world’s youth living in Africa, the international community stands to benefit from empowering the leaders and change-makers of tomorrow.” ” WISE CEO Stavros Yiannouka tells New African.
He adds: “But we also need to expect more from the leadership, and I must emphasise that the issue of good leadership is not just an African challenge, it is a global challenge. However, we need to have higher expectations, not just of our leaders, but of ourselves too. We need to aspire to be better in our own small domains, communities and environments.”
An initiative of the Qatar Foundation and co-founded by Sheikha Moza Bin Nasser, WISE flagship initiatives include an annual series of research publications, a biennial global summit dubbed the ‘Davos of education’, the WISE edTech Accelerator, the WISE Awards, and the WISE Words podcast.
One of the WISE Accelerator initiatives, Make Ghanaian Girls Great, was present at the Accra forum. The project, Ghana’s first interactive distance-learning project, currently benefitting 10,000 marginalised girls and boys by equipping three classrooms in 72 government schools with technology packages including computers, projectors, satellite modems and solar panels. Ten specially-trained “master trainers” located in 4 studios in the capital (Accra) deliver live lessons through satellite, directly to over 200 remote classrooms daily, offering marginalised communities one-hour instruction in Maths and one-hour English each day.
“Although we currently have partnerships with different donor agencies, but we also have a sustainability plan of how we can continue after these donor fundings, and we are in close collaboration with the government to do that as eventually we would like the government to take over the overall responsibility of the project, because it is government schools that we reach out to. But our main aim is to give these rural children the education foundation they need. The project gives them a solid foundation that prepares their mind to have a better focus, raises their aspirations and gives them a better attitudes that encourages them to explore education further,” explains Muniratu Issifu Country Director for Varkey Foundation in Ghana, where the project is housed and run from.
Ashesi and beyond
Leadership, an issue touched on by many speakers during the Accra Forum, is at the core of the ethos instilled in the teaching modules and curriculum at Dr Patrick Awuah’s multiple-award winning Ashesi University.
“People are motivated by what is celebrated…here at Asheshi we are very clear about our guiding principles and what our mission is – our mission is to also educated student to be future leaders. Educating future leaders of a certain character has been very central to what we do. If you have that clarity of mission from early on, it is really helps. So we have that from onset. We are a campus that is environmentally sensitive, that values diversity, that values inclusion and when our students graduate into the real world, they bring that with them together with the skills they have graduated with. We are just not in the business of giving our students technical knowledge, but we are also focused on skills and character,” he tells New African.
Built on atop a hill in Eastern Region area overlooking the Ghanaian capital, Accra, Ashesi is home to nearly 900 students from 30 different countries. The University claims it has a 93% employment rate for its students upon graduation, 90% of of whom the university says find work and stay on continent than seek opportunities abroad.
Its four-year bachelors degrees (which range from business administration, computer science, engineering and management information systems) are built on the pillars of a liberal arts curriculum.
“Students explore connections among fields of knowledge, learn to question assumptions, distinguish relevant information from the irrelevant, and to reflect on the views of others. We offer a leadership seminar on ethics, collaboration, and entrepreneurship, concluding with a service-learning component,” Dr Awuah who was one of the keynote speakers @WiseAccra.
“At Ashesi, we are more interested in educating students who also have a concern for common good, ethical ability and see opportunity in problems.
We have taken liberal education and contextualise it to Ghanaian culture…and therefore, how we educate we teach, listen, share, analyse, act and do,” added Dr Awuah, an engineer and former Program Manager at Microsoft where he spearheaded the development of dial-up internetworking technologies.
He concluded: “Technology is abundant today, and it is crucial that we educate students to be more human in this new era of machines…Imagine how Africa and the world will be, if university education also focussed on leadership, and problem solving, we would have more than 5,000 Mandelas – imagine what a difference that would make in our world.”