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Africa News Sun, 25 Jul 2021

Ex-Tanzania president urges African govts to spend more on education

The former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, has urged African governments to spend more on education in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has disrupted learning across sub-Saharan Africa in the past year.

Beyond maintaining and increasing the amount of domestic financing for education, governments should also ensure investments in education were fully inclusive, targeted more carefully towards the most marginalised children, and well accounted for.

Africa should also prepare for future shocks by investing in digital learning and literacy and leveraging technology in the classrooms, he stated.

“This will ensure students can keep learning through future school closures, whether due to pandemics or to natural and climate disasters,” he added.

Dr Kikwete explained : “Africa is facing a crossroads: allow the education crisis to become a generational catastrophe or invest in education as a means to a more prosperous future for all.

“In many countries, children have missed at least 20 weeks of school – the equivalent of half an academic year.

“Child labour, early marriage and teenage pregnancies are on the rise, meaning that millions of children and young people – especially girls – will never return to their classrooms even when schools re-open.”

He made his intervention in a piece written in his capacity as Chairman-elect of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which is holding its Global Education Summit in London on July 28 and 29 to raise $5 billion to fund the next five-year cycle of the GPE.

Co-hosted by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Summit will ask donors to make the investment to help ensure learning for 175 million girls and boys, get 88 million more children in school, and reach 140 million more students with professionally trained teachers in 87 low- and middle-income countries.

Figures show that at the peak of school closures during the health crisis, 1.3 billion children – including 650 million girls – were not receiving formal education.

The global benchmark for domestic spending on education is 20 per cent but since the outset of the pandemic some of these countries have cut their public education budgets.

The annual financing gap for education in these countries has risen from an estimated $148 billion to almost $200 billion, placing the future of millions of learners at risk.

The GPE has warned that aid to education could fall by up to $2 billion by 2022, and that it could take six years to get back to 2018 levels.

In the case of Africa, Dr Kikwete said: “The ravages of the pandemic are worsening a pre-existing learning crisis.

“Africa is the world region with the highest out-of-school rates, the highest rates of exclusion, and the highest adolescent pregnancy rates.

“Only one in five children in Africa can read and understand a simple story by their 10th birthday,” he added.

While noting the need to reverse the trend of falling aid to education, Dr Kikwete pointed out: “African governments are the principal source of education funding.

“Domestic budgets finance teachers’ training and salaries, school infrastructure and maintenance, provision of learning materials, and administration and management of the education system.

“Therefore, only governments can turn the tide of Africa’s learning crisis into a wave of opportunity.

“Today, children account for almost half of Africa’s population.

“By 2055, there will be one billion children on the continent.”

The Global Education Summit would, therefore, ask African leaders to ‘raise their hands’ and pledge to maintain their education budgets at pre-Covid levels and work towards a global target of allocating at least 20 per cent of public spending to education.

Earlier this month, leaders around the world issued a clarion call for “GPE development partners and stakeholders in education” to secure “a stable and prosperous future for our children”.

The leaders made a commitment to ensure “equity in access to quality education, including making available resources reach the most marginalised children, especially girls”.

The leaders added in their statement: “We commit to prioritising gender equity, with a specific commitment to improving girls’ education and increasing investments for the inclusion of children with disabilities or other historically excluded groups.

“We commit to placing greater emphasis on improving learning outcomes in our education systems, and employing new techniques and methodologies that have been proven to yield better results for our students.

“We recognise the role of technology in improving learning outcomes and commit to leveraging technology-supported learning to improve equity in access to education and to close the prevailing global digital divide.”

UN analysis have shown that missing out on education does long term damage to individuals and communities, with girls particularly at risk.

It shows that the benefits of schooling are transformative and multi-generational.

"A child whose mother can read is 50 per cent more likely to live past the age of five and twice as likely to attend school," it notes.

With just one additional school year, a woman’s earnings can increase by a fifth, according to the analysis.
Source: GNA