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African Union Summit 2024 : Education for the 21st Century

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African Union Summit 2024 : Education for the 21st Century

In 2024, the African Union is focusing on education, after having emphasized intra-continental trade the year before. On February 16, 2024, a pre-launch ceremony will be held to raise the profile of the theme ahead of the AU Summit, where decisive action is expected.

Call to Action for Inclusive and Resilient Education

For 2024, the AU has chosen « Educating an Africa fit for the 21ᵉ century » as its theme. The goal is to build resilient education systems on the continent that promote greater access to inclusive, quality, sustainable and relevant learning. Education has never before been the annual theme of this pan-African organization, marking a significant turning point. This choice comes at an opportune time, as Africa faces major educational challenges that underscore the urgency of effective investments and policies.

This proposal is justified by several key factors. The international summit on transforming education in September 2022 underscores the urgency of the global education crisis. Progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 has been unsatisfactory, particularly in Africa. The Continental Strategy for Education in Africa (CESA) points out that the continent faces significant gaps.

Context of the African Union Summit

As education remains a top priority for the United Nations (UN), the African Union is pleased to make it its main focus this year. Moreover, the ECA reaffirms its commitment to work with this pan-African organization to build an education system fit for the 21st century. This year’s 44th ordinary session of the Executive Board underscores the need to adapt Africa’s education system to the needs of today’s world.

Claver Gatete, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, emphasizes that education is a fundamental right that is essential for socio-economic development. This right must be accessible and inclusive, otherwise the prospects for structural transformation are limited. However, much remains to be done to ensure access to universal education in Africa. Quantity, quality and equitable access remain major challenges for many African countries.

Urgent need for commitment and concrete action

By 2030, nearly half of the world’s youth will be African. However, the development of the skills needed for employment is not keeping pace with this demographic growth. UNESCO reports that more than 700 million young people and adults lack basic literacy skills, a high proportion of whom are women.

Education in sub-Saharan Africa is uneven, with the highest rates of exclusion. According to the UN, by 2022, 40 % of students from disadvantaged backgrounds will not complete primary school, compared to 80 % of children from wealthy families. In some countries, girls from the poorest backgrounds do not complete upper secondary education at all. Without immediate action, the situation will inevitably worsen.

Recognition of the need for educational reform

Since the 1960s, African leaders have questioned the relevance of the colonial education system to the continent’s development needs. Indeed, current curricula are proving inadequate to prepare young people for the job market and Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. What’s more, the COVID-19 crisis underscores the need for a digital transformation of education. Multiple global crises are raising awareness of the need to rethink the relevance of the current education system.

Growing importance of STEM skills

Innovation, technology, the emergence of artificial intelligence, and the digitization of commerce and government systems are redefining the skills needed in many sectors of the economy. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are now key skills for the future.

Careers in these fields create more wealth and improve competitiveness and economic growth. Yet less than 25 % of students in higher education take STEM courses. Women make up only 30 % of students in these fields. Inadequate resources, lack of education and basic numeracy skills limit the STEM landscape in Africa.

Technical and vocational education and training

Integrating technical and vocational education and training (TVET) into education systems can stimulate entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. Africa needs to develop technologies that promote value addition in strategic sectors such as agri-food, manufacturing, green transitions and global health.

Equipped with the necessary skills and adapted to the era of the Third Industrial Revolution, Africa’s population represents a skilled and substantial workforce. Integrating TVET into a modernized education system ensures the creation of labor markets capable of making micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more competitive.

Financing : The major challenge for education in Africa

Achieving concrete results in education requires significant investment in infrastructure, resources and the development of appropriate curricula. Digital inclusion, especially for women, is also a priority, with a particular focus on STEM and TVET. Africa currently accounts for only 0.1 % of global patents. On average, the continent spends only 0.45 % of its GDP on R&D.

These education programs should enable Africa to capitalize on its natural resources and human capital. Especially at a time when many regions are facing aging demographics. In parallel with funding for the realization of the Incheon and Paris Declarations for the implementation of SDG 4, African governments must:

  • Leverage partnerships between industry and educational institutions
  • Align curriculum with labor market needs
  • Improve resource efficiency in education through performance accountability frameworks
  • Encourage the private sector to support human capital development.

Sources:

https://croissanceafrique.com/construire-des-systemes-educatifs-resilients-pour-un-acces-accru-a-un-apprentissage-inclusif-qualitatif-en-afrique/

https://au.int/sites/default/files/documents/43425-doc-EX_CL_1476_XLIV_Rev._1_-_CONCEPT_NOTE_with_Roadmap_AU_Theme_F.pdf

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