Youth Inclusion and Education - 3 questions to Her Excellence Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang
Commited to the autonomy of young people in situations of social fragility
In a complex global economic environment, youth unemployment and job insecurity have worrying human and financial consequences across the world. In Africa, young people – who make up more than 60% of the population – face challenges such as poverty, unemployment, lack of educational infrastructure and sometimes even illiteracy. Young people are both the future of their regions and the key to local vitality. Our objective is to empower them to take control of their future and to play a key role in the development of their communities. Our approach is based on three drivers: foster academic success and soft skills, promote access to general and vocational training, and support entrepreneurship.
3 questions to Her Excellence Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang
Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union Commission
Sarah Mbi Enow Anyang has over 20 years’ experience in the field of Academia: Professor of African and Commonwealth Literature, Fulbright Scholar –in- Residence to the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA in 2004-2005, Inspector of Academic Affairs at the Ministry of Higher Education, Cameroon.
What are the challenges of Education in Africa ?
The education sector in Africa is currently facing unprecedented number and types of challenges. These are occasioned by historical and emerging contexts. The future of provision and access to education and has never been more uncertain than it is currently. The quality of education is at great risk resulting from the unpreparedness of systems for alternative modes of delivery and access. The individual and national economic capacities are dwindling, making desired interventions hard to achieve. The Covid-19 pandemic, disasters, wars and civil unrest, labour unrest, poverty, gender disparity, leadership and policy gaps are just but a few causative aspects. In such circumstances, usually the women and girls in Education bear the brunt. On the flipside, women play a central role for the success of this and other sectors.
Africa’s premier development blueprint Agenda 2063 commits to speeding up actions that will “Catalyse education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovations for the Africa’s future.” Aspiration 6: an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth. The Education landscape in Africa at present, suffers from several challenges, some of which many stakeholders have categorized into the following:
Equity Challenge: Too many children are out of school and/or dropping out of school. Over 20 percent of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school.
Learning challenge: The quality of education and learning is leading to many children and young people not achieving minimum competencies for work and life.
Relevance challenge: Several under or unemployed graduates in Africa reflect the skills-labor market mismatch. There is a gap between academia and industry.
Affordability challenge: Member states cannot afford to scale up investments in teachers, books, infrastructure, and equipment to improve access and quality of education. The cost of education is also too high for several poor households on the continent.
In the area of Higher Education to be exact, we identify that the disparate higher education systems inherited from Africa’s colonial past, namely Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone, with some Arab countries in North Africa having their own specific systems. This handicaps the mobility of staff and students among the countries. The statistics clearly show that academic mobility outwards from the continent by far exceeds that within.
Furthermore, Africa’s education sector in general and higher education especially, over several decades, have suffered from under-funding, partly as a result of economic and political crises and partly because of implementing the misguided policy that investment in higher education does not yield sufficient economic and social returns when compared to investment in lower levels of education. As a result, in order to meet the pressing demand for higher education, the institutions have had to accommodate enormous increases in student enrolment with hardly any expansion of their infrastructures or proper maintenance of the existing ones. Quality of higher education has inevitably suffered.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these challenges. We see how the pandemic has affected millions and forced closure of schools, and lockdowns of socioeconomic activities on the continent. All of which significantly backtracked the progress attained in relation to prosperity on the continent, inclusivity, and access to education, to mention a few amongst many other indices.
What do you think are the main advances in education ?
The African Union is working towards an integrated and prosperous continent, driven by its own people, and taking its rightful place on the global stage. We have developed the Continental Education Strategy to guide the development of Africa’s human capital to support this vision under the various thematic areas, such as STEM, Early Childhood Education, ICT in Education, Curriculum – to name a few.
We recognize that the challenges in Africa Education ecosystem have equally given rise to opportunities. Education is key to a nation’s ability to develop and achieve sustainability targets in all. Realizing its importance not only to Africa’s development, including its ability to help achieve global sustainable development, African education is now receiving increasing attention both by the continent’s socio-economic, political and financial bodies and by international organizations. Almost every Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa has identified education as a major area for reform. Pledges for supporting education in Africa have come from almost all the international development/funding agencies. The much-needed revitalization of African education, particularly in improving its infrastructure and governance, is now well under way. There is greater awareness of the potential for inter-African collaboration for sharing resources, especially for capacity building. The full potential of using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is now within Africa’s grasp.
At the African Union Commission concerted efforts are being made through the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) which aims to reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture African core values and promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels. The AU is working with member states to roll out DOTSS as a minimum package for transforming Africa’s education system. DOTSS is an acronym for:
D Digital connectivity,
O Online and offline learning,
T Teachers as facilitators and motivators of learning,
S Safety online and offline,
S Skills focused learning to develop sector implementation strategies/ plans of the AU Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS).
Furthermore, the AUC believes that digital learning has the potential to revolutionize education through mainstreamed digital provision that reaches everyone in Africa and adopting radical and innovative approaches through eLearning can also circumvent key bottlenecks to education and address Africa’s education crisis from the perspectives of equity, quality, and relevance. And this is why the Commission is advancing the development of the Digital Education Strategy to guide this process.
The aim of the AU Digital Education strategy is to transform Africa’s education systems to improve access/inclusion, quality and relevance of education and learning to make a meaningful and substantive contribution to Africa’s development as articulated in Agenda 2063. The strategy will among others aim at addressing key bottlenecks in adopting and scaling up the digitization of Africa’s education systems including connectivity, content/pedagogy, cost of data, access to devices and teaching, management and maintenance capacity. It will explore the use of no-tech, low-tech and high-tech methods in different contexts and offer practical steps and guidance for digitization in the different AU Member States. The Strategy will also support digital education in many ways, from the development of digital pedagogies that can be used in classrooms, to connectivity and infrastructure so that you can connect to a more diverse group of learners.
Are the solutions provided today going in the right direction for African Youth ?
Indeed, for us at the AUC we are ultimately guided by the Human Capital Requirements of the 21st century society and beyond of which the African Youths are the ultimate beneficiaries. And all our activities are geared towards providing a sustainable future for the African Youths. As Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the great engine for personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor and a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.” My father was fond of saying “When you do not have a godfather, Education is the key that opens doors of opportunities”.
Bearing in mind, the Africa Union Agenda 2063, whose development is people driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth- the AUC has championed the call for the need to develop skills that meet market demand and requirements that enhance African peoples’ capacity to engage meaningfully in the society. This is reflected in many of our youth-centric initiatives, be it the chairperson of the African Union Commission H.E. Dr Moussa Faki Mahamat 1 million by 2021 initiative which aims to “concretely reach millions of African youth from across the continent with opportunities and interventions in the key areas of Employment, Entrepreneurship, Education and Engagement (4E’s)”, which will accelerate socioeconomic development on the continent”; the Innovating Education in Africa Expo- as a flagship program of the ESTI Department it aims at bringing together various stakeholders on the continent to identify, promote and scale promising Education Innovations in Africa. Our Skills Initiative for Africa Program also identifies youths as the drivers of change across the world of work and their impact on skills development and inclusive economic development.
The AUC ESTI Department, rolls out the Innovating Education in Africa, as a flagship program of Department. It aims at bringing together various stakeholders on the continent to identify, promote and scale promising Education Innovations in Africa. In the current crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annually held Innovating Education in Africa Expo was held as a series of virtual events and activities from August 2020 through June 2021, including call for applications, capacity building, dialogues, exhibition, pitching and pilot projects of the selected innovations. The 2021 Innovation in Africa Expo is currently on-going with over 630 call for applications, with TOP 50, and 10 Innovations identified with the view of further identifying Top 3 Innovations. These innovations will be up scaled with grant seed of 100,000 USD, 60,000 USD, and 40,000 USD respectively to the first, second and third winners. We are focused on ensuring that the lessons which are learnt through innovations implemented in education are documented and exchanged across AU Member States to serve as reference points for integration in in-person learning.
At the continental level we are mobilising stakeholders under the cluster mechanism to develop knowledge products based on the experiences we have gathered that strengthens the response of Member States going forward.