Education: Wake up, stand up, For your right!

Kofi Annan once said, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” We therefore welcome and look forward to the upcoming launch of the UN Secretary-General’s global initiative on education, termed ‘Education First’, later this month. ‘Education First’ aims to put education at the heart of the social, political and development agenda.

The Africa Progress Panel members are seriously committed to Education. In two weeks’ time, we will release a policy paper entitled, “A Twin Education Crisis is Holding Back Africa: Millions are not at school, millions more are failing to learn,” based on our 2012 Africa Progress Report, “Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change.” In this policy paper, we argue that failure to tackle the twin crisis in education has repercussions well beyond limiting the right to learning, undermining prospects for economic growth, and wasting human potential. Deficits in education also render countries all the more vulnerable to the political and social volatility that accompanies urbanization and youth unemployment.

Education has the potential to transform Africa’s social and economic development. It is what equips countries – and people – with the skills they need to escape the gravitational pull of poverty and build shared prosperity. It is the building block of every society, enabling them to build more secure livelihoods, enjoy better health and participate in political processes that affect their lives.

But let the facts speak for themselves. One additional year of schooling in a poor country can add 10 per cent to a person’s income. Children of educated mothers are more likely to be vaccinated and less likely to die before the age of five. According to UNESCO’s Global Monitoring report, universal secondary education for Africa’s women could save around 1.8 million child lives a year.

When the MDG commitments were made in 2000, Tanzania had over 3 million children out of school and enrolment was declining. Today, the country is within touching distance of universal primary enrolment. From Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia, one country after another has made a breakthrough in enrolment.

Impressive as the growth in school participation may be, Africa is not on track to achieve the MDG targets. Millions of children are still not in school, and millions of adolescents are out of school, many of them are making the transition to work without having completed a basic education. If the trend from 2004 to 2009 is continued, there will still be 17 million out of school in 2025 – two primary school generations after the 2015 target date for universal education. According to recent data by UNECSO, there are more children out of school in sub-Saharan Africa today than there were three years ago.

If we are to see Africa truly transform, the continent’s ongoing education crisis demands the urgent attention of political leaders and aid partners. Development partners must therefore honor their commitments made in 2000 and provide $16 billion a year in aid for basic education in low income countries. We very much welcome the World Bank’s commitment to increase IDA lending to basic education by $750 million over the period 2011 – 2015, which would imply an average lending total of $1.1 billion annually. Support for education in countries affected by conflict, such as South Sudan, must also be strengthened.

Education First and a call for a global fund for education is a great step in the right direction. But as the African proverb states: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

This piece is adapted from the 2012 Africa Progress Report, “Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change.”

Caroline Kende-Robb served as Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel from September 2011 to January 2017.

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