EU increases spending on African education

Offers 3% more for post-Covid resilience

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The European Union (EU) has announced plans to increase spending on the African Union (AU) to support its member states improve their education systems to mitigate the challenges caused by Covid-19 and to improve resilience for future shocks.

The announcement was made in a joint statement by the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, and AU Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor.

The commissioners note in the statement that African education has been severely affected by Covid-19, with more than 20 million pre-primary, 160 million primary, 56 million secondary, and eight million tertiary level learners out of school with no access to continued learning and teaching facilities across the continent.

With the quality of education impacted negatively by Covid-19, AU encourages member states that are covered by the International Partnerships Portfolio to increase their budget allocations for education, and to improve overall domestic resource mobilisation. The body further calls for mobilisation of more resources and the improvement of spending, which “are central to quality education systems and to improving resilience to future shocks.”

“Our people are the most important resource we have. In the next 15 years, 450 million young Africans will be looking to either find or create a job for themselves. Will they be able to build a career in one of the emerging sectors?. “Will they have the right skills and competences to meet the evolving demands of the labour market? The answer is yes – yes, if we act now,” reads the statement.

Further indicating that it is crucial that both continental unions invest in the future and allocate adequate funds to education today, enabling the necessary reforms. The EU intends to increase spending on education in partner countries covered by the International Partnerships Portfolio from seven percent to 10 percent.

The joint statement further alerted AU member states of the need to innovate the development, provision and delivery of education at all levels, taking advantage of digital learning which it believes has immense potential to transform education and training through greater accessibility, affordability, and relevance.

“There is no doubt that digital learning opportunities have immense potential to transform education and training through greater accessibility, affordability and relevance.

“Furthermore, hybrid learning models and the application of modern technologies in other aspects of education beyond delivery is essential to guarantee the quality of learning, while reducing inefficiencies,” it noted.

The need for education partners to collaborate with civil societies and the private sector for sustainable growth and jobs has been noted as key, while focus is put mainly on education, skills, research and innovation in Africa which will provide for inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

Partnerships will be sought for developing innovative approaches and improving learning outcomes that can meet future demands, including in emerging fields such as the digital sector and in green and climate-friendly technologies with focus on supporting the availability and quality of teachers at all levels of education.

Around 17 million teachers will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 to achieve universal primary and secondary education.

Lesotho is an eager beneficiary of this financial assistance, which will help address some of the challenges in its education system encountered as a result of Covid-19.

In November last year, the Ministry of Social Development announced that more than 4 000 Form C and E students failed to show up at school when classes resumed, following closure due to the first lockdown meant to control the spread of Covid-19. The lockdown was declared in the beginning of the same year.

Failure to afford examination and school fees were presented as the main drivers behind, given the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

Liteboho Mosala-Letsie from the Ministry of Social Development told Public Eye that her ministry found out that 2 727 (15.15 percent) and 1 661 students (11.86 percent) who were supposed to sit for JC and LGSCE examinations respectively had dropped out in the subject period.

“That is a total of 4 388 students. Some owed examination fees, others owed school fees while others owed both examination and school fees. The ministry is going to pay for them and the Minister has since appealed to them to go back to school,” Mosala-Letsie said.

Minister of Social Development ’Matebatso Doti in November of 2020 went on to announce to parliament that the ministry would throw a lifeline to all the Form C and E students who had been affected.

Doti said this was critical support for the students to get their lives back on track, calling on the parents to send their children back to school.

Prime minister Moeketsi Majoro also expressed concern over youth learning and qualifying for skills that do not meet the country’s market demands.

He called for a review of the school curriculum meant for an increase in vocational studies enrolment in institutions of higher learning and partnership between the private sector and institutions of higher learning.

Majoro said through a government-run programme where youths are placed in government ministries and the private sector as a response to the high unemployment rate, the government has discovered that 15 000 graduates and 100 000 youths that did not go to tertiary institutions are unemployed and that chances of them getting employed are slim.

He said out of these 15 000 unemployed graduates, employers prefer those that have vocational training. “Employers prefer people who did vocational training from Lerotholi Polytechnic and other vocational schools. Those that studied economics, accounting and law are struggling the most to secure jobs.

“This leaves the question why tertiary institutions are continuing to offer courses that Lesotho’s economy clearly no longer needs. It is clear that Lesotho’s economy demands vocational skills, which are rare in the country,” he said.

He encouraged tertiary institutions and vocational schools to increase enrollment in vocational departments and partner with the private sector for skills development.

As at March 3, UNICEF reported that schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to Covid-19 lockdowns, according to new data released today by the UN agency.

UNICEF further said around 214 million children globally – or 1 in 7 – have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning.

The analysis on school closures report notes that 14 countries worldwide have remained largely closed form March 2020 to February 2021. Two-thirds of those countries are in Latin America and the Caribbean, affecting nearly 98 million schoolchildren. Of the 14 countries, Panama has kept schools closed for the longest time, followed by El Salvador, Bangladesh, and Bolivia.

“As we approach the one-year mark of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are again reminded of the catastrophic education emergency worldwide lockdowns have created.

“With every day that goes by, children unable to access in-person schooling fall further and further behind, with the most marginalised paying the heaviest price,” said Henrietta Fore UNICEF Executive Director.

“We cannot afford to move into year two of limited or even no in-school learning for these children. No effort should be spared to keep schools open, or prioritise them in re-opening plans.”

School closures have had devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being.

The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, and even being forced into child marriage or child labour.

According to latest data by UNESCO, more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to their education due to full and partial school closures.

The majority of schoolchildren worldwide rely on their schools as a place where they can interact with their peers, seek support, access health and immunisation services and a nutritious meal. The longer schools remain closed, the longer children are cut off from these critical elements of childhood.

 

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