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Opinions of Sunday, 13 September 2015

Columnist: Asemani, Emmanuel Osei

The Cancerous State Of Education In Africa

A famous educationist once said that, the ultimate aim of any education system is to equip children with the numeracy, literacy and wider skills that they need to realize their potential – and that their countries need to generate jobs, innovation and economic growth. Does this aim of education hold true in Africa? Let us take a journey with this article to find out if that is the case.
If you want a glimpse into Africa’s education crisis, there is no better vantage point than the town of Bodinga, located in the impoverished Savannah region of Sokoto state in northwestern Nigeria. Drop into one of the local primary schools and you’ll typically find more than 50 students crammed into a class. Just a few will have textbooks. If the teacher is there, and they are often absent, the children will be on the receiving end of a monotone recitation geared towards rote learning.
Not that there is much learning going on. One recent survey found that 80 percent of Sokoto’s Grade 3 pupils cannot read a single word. They have gone through three years of zero value-added schooling. Mind you the kids in the classrooms are the lucky ones especially if they are girls. Over half of the state’s primary school-age children are out of school – and Sokoto has some of the world’s biggest gender gaps in education. Just a handful of the kids have a chance of making it through to secondary education.
Bodinga’s schools are a microcosm of a wider crisis in Africa’s education. After taking some rapid strides towards universal primary education after 2000, progress has stalled. Students out of school are on the rise – and the gulf in education opportunity separating Africa from the rest of the world is widening. That gulf is not just about enrollment and years in school, it is also about learning. From South Korea to Singapore and China, economic success has been built on the foundations of learning achievement. And far too many of Africa’s children are not learning, even if they are in school.
The Center for Universal Education at Brookings--an organization that takes the pulse of education in Africa carried out a survey that delved into the available evidence. In what appears to be the first region-wide assessment of the state of learning, the survey estimates that 61 million children of primary school age – one-in-every-two across the region – will reach their adolescent years unable to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks. Perhaps the most shocking finding, however, is that over half of these children will have spent at least four years in the education system.
Africa’s education crisis does not make media headlines. Children don’t go hungry for want of textbooks, good teachers and a chance to learn. But this is a crisis that carries high costs. It is consigning a whole generation of children and youth to a future of poverty, insecurity and unemployment. It is starving firms of the skills that are the foundation of enterprise and innovation. And it is undermining prospects for sustained economic growth in the world’s poorest region.
Tackling the crisis in education will require national and international action on two fronts: Governments need to get children into school – and they need to ensure that children get something meaningful from their time in the classroom. Put differently, they need to close the twin deficit in access and learning.
What is Going Wrong?
Rising awareness of the scale of Africa’s learning crisis has turned the spotlight on schools, classrooms and teachers, and for good reason. Education systems across the region urgently need reform. But the problems begin long before children enter school in a lethal interaction between poverty, inequality and education disadvantage.
The early childhood years set many of Africa’s children on a course for failure in education. There is compelling international evidence that preschool malnutrition has profoundly damaging, and largely irreversible consequences for the language, memory, and motor skills that make effective learning possible, and last throughout youth and adulthood. This year, 40 percent of Africa’s children will reach primary school-age having had their education opportunities blighted by hunger. Some two-thirds of the region’s preschool children suffer from anemia – another source of reduced learning achievement.
Parental illiteracy is another preschool barrier to learning. The vast majority of the 48 million children entering Africa’s schools over the past decade come from illiterate home environments. Lacking the early reading, language and numeracy skills that can provide a platform for learning, they struggle to make the transition to school, and their parents struggle to provide support with homework.
To conclude there is much to celebrate in Africa’s social and economic progress over the past decade. But if the region is to build on the foundations that have been put in place, it has to stop the hemorrhage of skills, talent and human potential caused by the crisis in education. Africa’s children have a right to an education that offers them a better future .There is most definitely hope for the region of Africa if their leaders would only buckle up in lieu with the international community.

Article by Emmanuel Osei Asemani
Peculiar International School (PIS)
Kasoa