Is Africa leaving a generation behind?


Despite the global celebration of International Children Education Day in January, there remains a pressing need for continuous dialogue about prioritising education for young African children.

In November 2023, a literacy assessment in Enugu, Eastern Nigeria, revealed that 50% of primary school pupils were unable to read, write or solve basic arithmetic. This predicament isn’t confined to the eastern part of Nigeria alone; it’s pervasive across sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank reports that 21% of primary-age children (6-11 years old) are out of school, leaving millions without fundamental literacy and numeracy skills. Additionally, almost 60% of youth aged 15-17 are not enrolled in secondary education; highlighting a massive dropout problem in the region.

Consider the alarming fact that an estimated 70% of ten-year-old children lack the ability to comprehend a simple story. This critical deficit demands immediate and decisive action. Every child deserves the fundamental right to quality education, instilling essential literacy and numeracy skills necessary for navigating life’s intricacies and propelling them toward a brighter future.

Ignoring basic education not only harms individuals but also hinders national progress. A workforce with weak problem-solving skills creates challenges in supporting vulnerable populations and providing widespread job opportunities. Prioritising educational initiatives can bridge the literacy gap and empower the next generation for a thriving Africa.

We must consistently emphasise ensuring that every African child receives education from the primary to advanced level. Despite Africa’s rich natural resources, the lack of sufficient and quality education emerges as a significant hindrance to its development. What will become of Africa’s future when the education of its leaders of tomorrow is not prioritised?

Assisting children in grasping the fundamentals early is crucial. When young learners encounter challenges in reading and maths, it impedes their ability to tackle advanced subjects like science or computer skills. It’s comparable to constructing a tall building; if the foundation is shaky, the entire structure risks collapse. Subjects like science and computer skills have contributed to growth of the economy and development of society in no small measure. Thus, our focus should be on fortifying that base. When fundamental skills are acquired during the early years of school, children can learn the more advanced skills with ease.

Furthermore, children struggling with these basic skills may experience feelings of sadness and discouragement, potentially leading to early school dropouts. Inadequate mastery of the basics could deprive them of advantages associated with quality education, such as securing good jobs, maintaining good health and contributing to a contented community.

What Can Be Done?

Focusing on enhancing the school experience for children is a great place to start. This will ensure that every child is able to receive a solid foundation for learning before transitioning into adolescence.

Envision a school environment with fewer students in each class; this enables teachers to provide individualised attention and assistance when needed. Consequently, learning becomes more enjoyable and accessible. Additionally, when post-school support is available for children requiring extra assistance, it contributes significantly to their continued development and successful transition into adulthood. This ongoing support ensures that individuals with diverse needs receive tailored assistance, fostering independence, skill development and a sense of belonging within the community. It plays a crucial role in promoting lifelong learning, social integration and empowering these individuals to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives beyond their formal education.

Equally essential is the provision of comprehensive training and support for teachers. Educators, when well-versed in effective teaching methods, can infuse excitement and interest into the learning process – akin to a skilled coach making the game enjoyable and leading the team to victory.

Hammering on parental involvement is essential as well, since this plays a crucial role in supporting children’s educational journeys. Picture a number of households where parents rally behind their children – guiding them with their homework, engaging them in discussions or volunteering at the school. Collaborative efforts like these not only sharpen the children’s skills but also foster happiness.

Technology emerges as a valuable ally in this endeavour. Imagine the potential of using tablets or computers for learning, incorporating engaging games and apps that render the educational process more captivating. Through these concerted efforts, we can ensure that every child in Africa receives a chance to learn and excel, setting the stage for Africa to flourish – a place where everyone enjoys good employment, maintains good health and experiences communal happiness.

As the World Bank notes, countries are not adequately prioritising foundational learning. Urgent action is needed because investing in education is one of the best investments a nation can make. Every child should have access to a good school, learning the basics like reading and maths – ensuring a better life for all.

Felix is the founder of SAFEL Better Life Organisation, a non-profit that focuses on supplying back-to-school essentials and delivering medical care to young children in underserved communities.

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