13.02.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Youth is Africa’s main asset, says UNESCO Director-General

“Youth is Africa’s main resource. Young people are not only the key to the future, they are also the ones constructing the present,” said UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova in a message sent to the opening of the ADEA Triennale 2012.

“The Democratic surge in North Africa shows the transformative power of youth when they are educated and speak out on the street or through social media”, she added in the speech which was given by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Africa, Lalla Aïcha Ben Barka.

The opening ceremony took place on Monday 13 February 2012 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Côte d'Ivoire as well as 50 ministers were present at the opening. In all, some 600 participants attend the Triennale.

Explosion in number of youth

The UNESCO Director-General said in her message that there is "an explosion in the number of African youth, which adds to the urgency of linking education, training and employment."

In some countries such as Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, 60% of the population is under 25.

In this respect the quality of education is important, Irina Bokova said. “Too many children leave school with insufficient skills and competences which do not allow them to integrate the workforce”.

She mentioned studies from Malawi and Zambia where one third of pupils after six years of schools still do not know how to read, write or do calculations.

Better trained teachers is one of the main solutions to this problem, the Director-General said.

No size fits all model

Irina Bokova underlined in the message that the difficulties in African education systems cannot be solved by “a one size fits all model”.

“We need ‘fit to size’ solutions. Progress is more than a question of money, it is all about matching. A first match to make is between capacity and needs,” she said.

“In too many cases, progress is condemned by weak institutions, political crises and conflicts, exacerbated by economic hardship.”

UNESCO works with national authorities, public servants, civil society to identify needs, to align national priorities, to sharpen planning, implementation and monitoring.

The Director-General highlighted UNESCO's close cooperation with the Association for Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). She also mentioned the  Organization’s Basic Education in Africa Programme that promotes a 9-10 years of compulsory schooling in addition to a year of pre-primary education.

Need relevance

Another match that needs to be made is the one between skills and the world of work.

“Education must prepare students for the needs of the 21st century, which places a premium on relevance,” she said.

Technical and Vocational education and training is here of crucial importance and UNESCO’s UNEVOC network is currently being strengthened.

High stakes

“Stakes are high but we know how much people believe in education in Africa, even in the most difficult circumstances they never give up,” Bokova said.

The ADEA Triennale ends on Friday 17 February 2012.

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