The Future of Africa’s Education is in the Hands of African Youth

Special Focus : Innovating for Quality Education in Africa
Access and Inclusion May 07, 2018

In 1993, I was a second-grade student at St Paul’s Primary School, one of the top-ranked schools in northern Ghana. I remember clearly the unpainted and overcrowded classroom with limited resources as well as the fact that our teachers rarely showed up. The 2016 USAID report on Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) shows that only 2% of Ghanaian children of the second grade in public schools can read a word in English or in their native language with full comprehension. My classroom experience in early grades at St. Paul’s is still a reality for many Ghanaian children today. It reflects the huge educational challenges in Ghana and several other African countries. The lack of access to quality education on the continent is perpetuating poverty, early marriage, weakening economies, increasing youth delinquency and unemployment.
Africa will have the largest youth population in the world with over 50% under the age of 25 in the next 25 years. This youth population surge could catapult Africa into a growth trajectory that fuels industrialization and technological advancement but we must first invest in quality education for all.
The World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report paints a sadly accurate picture of the learning crisis in Africa. “37 million African children will learn so little in school that they will not be much better off than kids who never attend school” (Van Fleet 2012). The report notes that teachers are the most important determinant of children’s learning outcomes. Nonetheless, admission requirements for teacher training colleges are being lowered in some African countries to increase the supply of teachers. Besides, teachers with substandard qualifications are being sent out to lead classrooms.
Meanwhile, there is a high unemployment rate among recent university graduates across Africa. Kelvin Balogun, president of Coca-Cola for Central, East and West Africa, mentioned during his speech at this year’s Africa Transformation Forum in Kigali, Rwanda that “nearly half of the 10 million graduates churned out of the 668 universities in Africa yearly do not get jobs”. 
Imagine in 25 years from today children all across Africa are in classrooms receiving an education that meets the learning requirements for the 21st century. The key to this future lies in the hands of the next generation of young African leaders. More African youth should take up a few years’ teaching and serve as change agents in low-income and under-resourced communities in their home countries. They will build leadership skills and also drive long-term systemic changes to the educational system. Furthermore, the community service will enhance their effectiveness as leaders across varied sectors and professions.
Albert Apatey is one such university graduate who relocated to a village in Ghana to teach mathematics and mentor in a school where no junior high school students had matriculated into high school for 7 years. After Albert’s first year teaching at Afiedenyigba Junior School, 35 students got admitted into high school. This impact is a direct testament to what African youth can do to advance education on the continent if they choose to lead failing classrooms. The potential of African youth is unparalleled in this arena and will be instrumental to end educational inequity in Africa.
Teaching in local schools can give African youth the critical knowledge of the intersections of different public sectors. Imagine if the next generation of doctors in Africa understood how malaria affects children’s cognitive development and thus serves as a barrier to their academic achievement. Imagine future political leaders recognized that democracy and equity in the classroom ultimately lead to a democratic and prosperous nation. These crucial understandings could be attributed to their devotion of time to teaching in classrooms. It is against this backdrop that I challenge all African youth to take a step back, reflect, and courageously march into classrooms and communities with passion and conviction to end educational inequity in Africa.