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African Problems, African Solutions
foreign debt and the HIV/AIDS pandemic are among the daunting
challenges to education systems in Africa. With the worlds highest
population growth rate (2.6 per cent) and fastest urban growth
rate (4.3 per cent), Africa sets a very difficult agenda for
education for all.
some ten African countries are on track to achieve the education
goals they set after the World Conference on Education for All
in 1990. The good news is that Africa is energetically pursuing
those goals with innovation, optimism and courage. As Kader
Asmal, the South African Minister of Education, says, “We must
find African solutions to African educational problems.”
continent has made some notable advances. Countries such as
Cape Verde, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe have
already achieved primary enrolment rates of 90 per cent or more.
Uganda more than doubled its enrolment in two years when it
introduced a free education scheme. And although some 42 million
primary-school-age children are out of school in sub-Saharan
Africa, at least 17 million more are in school today compared
to 1990. The gender gap is as wide as ever, despite the fact
that many countries have now introduced girl-friendly policies:
Benin exempts girls in rural areas from paying school fees and
Eritrea has trained 300 female teachers to increase girls’ enrolment.
of the principal reasons education budgets suffer in Africa
is a crippling foreign debt burden. No fewer than thirty of
the world’s forty-two heavily indebted countries are in Africa.
The continent is currently serving its debts to the tune of
US$13 billion annually when all it needs is some US$3 billion
a year to fund universal primary education. Some countries have
to struggle to even pay the interest on their loans.
69 per cent of the world’s AIDS cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa,
according to Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. The HIV
virus has now infected a total of 23 million Africans. Innovative
care and support programmes exist, but with 13 million AIDS
orphans predicted by the end of 2000, these efforts, along with
traditional community care, are likely to be overwhelmed. Drastic
measures are needed.
least 17 million more African primary-school-age children
are in school today compared to 1990. However, some
42 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are still
out of school.
60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls, illustrating
that the gender gap is as wide as it was a decade
to two thirds of children are not getting an education
in countries where there is armed conflict and civil
average number of pupils per teacher is 37 in the
region; in central and western African countries,
such as Mali or Chad, it can reach up to 70. The pupil/teacher
ratio has risen slightly in the past decade.
40 per cent of African adults cannot read or write.
Women are the most affected. In certain countries
in western Africa, female illiteracy can reach 80
Zambia 1,300 teachers died from AIDS in 1998 alone and teacher
deaths now outnum-ber the output from teacher-training colleges.
The psychological effect of illness and death among teachers
and pupils is far-reaching: its long-term effects on education
ceiling is full of bullet holes and when it rains I have to
stop teaching,” complains Thea Uwimbabazi, a Rwandan teacher.
The escalation of conflict in the region over the last tenyears
has had a devastating effect on education. International or
civil wars are raging in a third of the forty-five countries
in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent is home to nearly a third
of the world’s refugees.Countries in the grip of civil strife,
such as Somalia, Angola
and the Central African Republic, have seen their formal education
systems deteriorate. Displaced teachers and pupils, damaged
or destroyed school buildings and the looting of educational
materials and equipment are just some of the consequences.
or civil wars
are raging in a third of the
it is not all gloom and doom in Africa. “In the past ten years
an unprecedented number of education reforms have made education
an issue discussed in buses and bars,” says Gabriel Mharadze
Machinga, Minister of Education
of Zimbabwe. “Now Africa has to show commitment. Africa has
to act.” Twenty-five recent successful education initiatives,
cited by the Association for the Development of Education in
Africa (ADEA), showed both commitment, innovation and action.
To build community participation, the Burundi government provided
financial incentives for communities to assume part of the cost
of school construction. Faced with poor results from French-language
schools, Niger launched an experimental programme to improve
quality, using national languages and active learning methods.
and growth are returning to the continent as a result of several
factors, from better government policies to the active involvement
of non-governmental organizations and local communities in education
and development. African governments are showing purpose and
determination to start again and put a new stamp on institutions
and programmes intended to improve the daily lives of Africans.
This is surely what people mean when they talk about a new Afro-optimism
or even an African Renaissance, recently expressed by South
African president Thabo Mbeki: “We are liberating ourselves
and now reside in mental universes of our own making, for our
own progress and prosperity.”