There has been much progress in the education sector in recent years, including through the catalyst that was the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, access to education has greatly improved. This is important to acknowledge because it shows that we can do it. But it is not enough to support the ambitions we have for our continent.
More children are attending school but Africa needs many more graduates with knowledge and skills, to grow and sustain our economies, and shape the continent’s future. Africa’s “Gross Enrollment Ratio” in tertiary education is about a quarter of the world average.
This is far from what is required to end poverty and instability, achieve prosperity, or even sustain our dignity as human beings. Fortunately, the right conditions are coming together to enable us to make the most of new ways to provide appropriate tertiary education.
First, education requires heavy investment, and returns are long term and not immediate. But there is no way around this. The role of government in setting education policies, and as primary funder of education will and has to continue. However, governments alone, even with the right levels of financial allocation to the sector and the support of development partners, cannot sustain the momentum needed.
We therefore have to find ever more innovative ways to attract needed resources from the private sector. This is especially because businesses have a vested interest in the quality of graduates and the skills they bring to the market.
Modern technology, including ICTs, present us with unprecedented opportunities to overcome barriers to delivering information and skills to our populations. In particular, affordable broadband will open up new pathways to world-class education, and vastly improve global collaboration on research.
The poor perception of technical education in many of our countries is starting to change. However, more sustained efforts are needed to give technical education its right value, so that it can contribute meaningfully to Africa’s transformation agenda.
As in other areas of development, we have to continue to build on the gains made so far in gender equality. The critical mass of human capital that Africa needs will be reached much faster when both boys and girls can make equal use of opportunities afforded by education.
Finally, our prospects for succeeding depend greatly on continued efforts to strengthen accountable governance, and build robust national systems, that are required to leverage international good will, expertise, and resources. This will also enable us to take better advantage of the increased availability of non-concessional funding.
Africa has worked hard to stimulate the demand for education and expand access. And young Africans are ready, capable and willing to learn, so we must give them this opportunity. Our responsibility now is to work together to create the right conditions for delivering the twenty-first century education that everyone deserves, in order that we may all benefit from their talents.