Back to School….. for Some -The Desperate Need For Basic Education In Africa
Presenter: Phyllis Webster
In early September, over five million Canadian children will return to school. Most will have backpacks complete with pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons etc. and some senior students will have i Pads or laptops. They will enter schools that have good facilities such as gyms and libraries and best of all trained teachers eager to get to know their new pupils. In their classrooms, there will be no shortage of desks, chairs, books, art supplies and interesting activities. As a former educator of many years, some of them overseas, I am aware that even though no education system is perfect, at least our BC schools will be ready to help our young people learn the many things which will help them towards a future which is relatively bright.
Imagine however, that you live in sub-Saharan Africa where 55 million young people aged 6 to 15 are out of school and 29 million of those are girls. Approximately 23 million of those children live in fragile and conflict-affected regions. If a child does manage to get to a school, many of the classes exceed 50 pupils. Many teachers have only high school graduation and are unable to help their students reach basic literacy and numeracy by the end of four years of schooling. The classrooms are often very basic, and the outdoor toilets filthy and unsafe especially for girls. There may be textbooks but there will not be enough for every child, and equipment as simple as chalk, pencils and paper will be in short supply.
Two years ago, world leaders agreed on a set of global targets for access to education as part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal#4 is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life long learning opportunities for all.” In order to keep the promise of inclusive, quality primary and secondary education for all by 2030, it will require a huge increase in the number of teachers world wide. Africa will need almost 20 million new trained teachers with 17 million of these teachers needed in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why is education in Africa so important? It is clear that education is the key to achieving development and influences all 17 of the SDGs. It leads to greater economic prosperity, better health outcomes and more gender equality. It reduces exploitation and violence and enables people to reach their full potential. If all students in low income countries acquired basic reading skills, millions of people would be lifted out of poverty (SDG #1 No poverty). A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past age five (SDG#3 Good Health). There would be 64% fewer child marriages with the completion of secondary school (SDG #5 Gender Equality). Literate people are more likely to participate in the democratic process and exercise their civil rights (SDG #16).
Girls in particular have many problems in accessing an education. Cultural norms often dictate that boys go to school if there is money for fees and uniforms and girls stay home to help with the housework, care for younger siblings, and fetch water and fuel. Often they are expected to marry very early and have children before their bodies are ready which means many die young. If they do get to school, there is a lack of toilets and water which means they must stay at home during their periods.
Often the journey to school is unsafe, and there is gender-based violence at the school including exploitation by teachers. Studying is hard for all children when they are hungry, have to walk many kilometers to school and have no light in their homes. Alas, there are many other problems.
What can we as Canadians do? We can ask our government to increase funding to the Global Partnership for Education, (GPE) an international organization which fosters an inclusive and participatory approach, bringing all partners at the country level together in a coordinated way to strengthen national education systems in 60 countries. In 2016 alone, GPE grants enabled the training of over 240,000 teachers, the distribution of 30 million textbooks and the building of 3,000 classrooms around the world. Prime Minister Trudeau, when speaking at the honorary citizen ceremony for Malala Yousafzai, confirmed that education can change the world and that we must do better to educate our young people to fight climate change, end poverty and achieve peace. Trudeau stated, “It is time to act now”.
To celebrate International Literacy day on September 8th, please write to the PM and your MP to ask that Canada increase the Canadian commitment to the GPE to 260 million over three years starting in 2018. The children of Africa and others in the rest of the developing world need our help now.
Victoria Grandmothers Advocacy Network