1. Expand early childhood care and education
2. Provide free and compulsory primary education for all
3. Promote learning and life skills for young people and adults
4. Increase adult literacy by 50 per cent
5. Achieve gender parity by 2005, gender equality by 2015
6. Improve the quality of education
Most people take the high road when it comes to Africa and state politically correct facts. Some take the low road and deem the continent to be beyond redemption. The truth lies someone in the middle, ever shifting ever changing, ever flowing. I wonder how much time decision makers spend in the actual schools observing educators at work. I wonder how many have the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said.
Nigeria heads the list with 1 out of 6 of the worlds out of school population. In Nigeria the richest 20% spend more that 10 times as much as the poorest 20%. In Uganda 97 out of 100 children from the richest entered primary and 80 reached the last grade. In the bottom quartile 90 out of 100 entered primary and 49 reached the last grade. Nigeria ranks 30th in GDP and places as an emerging economy instead of as a developing country and yet the lag behind in access to education. So why hasn’t Nigeria led Africa in school enrollment.
The same comparisons can be made in Egypt, which ranks 27th in GDP. In Egypt the richest spend 4 times as much as the poorest. As an emerging market economy why wouldn’t Egypt invest more in education for all?
Many countries hide behind culture to excuse lower rates of school attendance. Abolishing school fees has been a fundamental step in increasing enrollment. Research shows that for many children 6 years of school are not enough to build literacy. Poorly prepared teachers contribute to the low literacy rates in schools.
Africa is a continent of contrasts. In gender parity Angola and Eritrea have gone backwards. Burundi and Uganda have reached parity in education. Sub Sahara Africa has the world’s lowest total secondary enrollment ratio at 40% in 2010. Knowledge of HIV and AIDS is low in countries with high prevalence rates. UNICEF states that youth do not feel empowered to take the right action at the right times. This politically correct term fails to address the issue of rape and the fact that women are blamed for rape and men experience little or no punishment.
160 million adults have poor literacy skills. There are 120 million children who fail to reach grade 4. When I presented my proposal for blended learning in Ethiopia in September 2013, Ethiopian scholars were offended when I pointed out that 20% of children dropped out between Kindergarten and First Grade.
We must focus on the 130 million who are in school but failing to learn the basics. Teachers are the most important resource. Lack of training proves to be a major obstacle. Many teachers in Ethiopia and Kenya became teachers when they couldn’t find any other job. They miss at least 1 day a week and spend more time outside of the classroom than they spend inside the classroom I have explained from Benin, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, that teachers can not leave their classes unattended to visit sick relatives at the hospital or help their brothers buy a house. Children as young as 3 years old are expected to “behave” themselves when the teacher leaves the school and beat if they “act out” in the teachers absence.
Teachers need to be aware of learning differences and be prepared to adjust their teaching and assessment methods accordingly. It became obvious to me that most teachers failed to prepare for class. They completed lesson plans during instruction time. Other teachers didn’t plan at all. They received lesson plans from a teacher coordinator. They understood their subject but had no knowledge of child development, learning styles, pedagogy or motivation. They didn’t believe that they needed to know any of these subjects. They seemed to feel if students didn’t learn it was because they lacked the aptitude or ability.
Children miss a lot of school in developing countries and it cannot be explained away by saying that they need to work. Children don’t want to come to school. Teachers come from the elite. In the case of Ethiopia they are the less than 6% who have access to a college education. The children in government schools come from the lower socio-economic groups. No one in the literature addresses ethnic rivalries. They children come from a different ethnic group that their elite teachers and so parents with some means try to find private schools where the teacher and staff come from the same ethnic group or at least respect that ethnic group.
I spoke with a dean of a major teacher training college in South Africa. She admitted that her professors sat through lectures and exams through their bachelor’s, masters and doctorate program. Then they stayed at the University and became teacher-training professors and had never taught before a class full of school children. When she asked the primary and secondary feeder schools if I could observe them teaching, they responded that they were not interested in some “Westerner” telling them what to do in circumstances that we could not imagine.
There are 510 living languages in Nigeria and 83 living languages in Ethiopia. There are at least 6 languages in Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa with lots of ethnic conflicts. Uganda has 40 different languages. 30 distinct languages are spoken in Kenya. Unless there is a concerted effort to make sure that the child is proficient in the school language and the teacher is fluent in the same language, education lags behind.
In Benin, the children in the public pre-school were completely bilingual by two years of age. Their parents taught them French as well as their native language. When they entered school, it mattered less than the teachers came from the elite even though the teachers demonstrated clear prejudice against students from the less dominant ethnicities.
In countries like Ethiopia and Kenya where the two languages of instruction are Amharic and English and Swahili and English, the children and parents speak other languages, which are not addressed. All parents are not proficient in Swahili and Amharic. The three dominant language ethnicities in Ethiopia are Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya. In order to progress in school, children must learn Amharic in kindergarten or first grade. They beat children who perform poorly in school. So if a child has not acquired Amharic by first grade they usually drop out. Teachers or any other educated person has no interest in speaking anything but the languages of commerce which tend to be English, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya in the north and maybe Somali in the south. People don’t feel a need to speak the language of “lower class “ people.
Tanzania provides education in primary schools in Swahili and secondary school in English. Tanzania has 100 languages. The effort to teach children and parents in the school language is limited. Parents and students must take responsibility for learning the school, government and commerce language. A consciousness of lack pervades these cultures and language can be perceived as a barrier to protect assets for a select few.
So Education For All chose the right six goals but needed to add Learning and child engagement can be the seventh goal. The number of students and teachers who attend school irregularly must be addressed. The mind set and attitude that school is a lottery and if you are not going to be able to afford secondary school they don’t waste their time properly educating the children.
Parents need to understand the value of educating all children and not just the one perceived to be the most intelligent. School becomes a lottery with the goal being a government job, which helps the child, supports the family.
Culture plays a role in securing education for children in developing countries and lower socio-economic groups in developed country. Children from lower socio-economic groups resent educators. They feel that teachers can’t meet them where they live. Parents who suffered during their own school years, teach their children to resent authority figures.
Educators in developing countries felt that I spoiled children in the classes that I taught because I allowed them to go to the board and work problems. They felt uncomfortable when I insisted that every child participate in the lesson and answer questions. They informed that I violated their culture norms by creating a classroom community where every child was judged on the basis of performance and given an opportunity to learn and achieve.
Teachers felt uncomfortable and pressured to spend more time with students. They claimed that children would demand more from them. I can’t say that I appreciated their perspective. I enjoy working with challenging children. I enjoy convincing parents to send their children to school. Educators must take responsibility for educating children and stop blaming everyone else.
I don’t advocate communism, but I think Cuba has something when they chose to eliminate illiteracy. Africa has never taken ownership of the problem of education only for the elite. They basically said that I would educate more people in my country if you pay me to educate the people in my country. They have made huge strides in a short period of time. In order to go to the next level with 100% completing primary school, they must look outside their cultural boundaries and take responsibility for every child in the country.
Cuba shut down the University and sent the students and professors throughout the countryside to make sure that every family received education and basic literacy and numeracy. The students and teachers worked the farm alongside the farmers during the day and taught during the evenings and weekends. So everyone received education and assistance with living. There were no huge salaries with lots of bureaucracy.
African countries could do the same thing and then the most promising students allowed to go further with their education and become teachers. If every ethnic group and language was represented at the University level then they become the torchbearers of tomorrow. This strategy could be supplemented with technology as well.
The other option would be to design Instructional materials that are relevant and meaningful and solve daily problems such as access to clean water, energy and food needs. If the children came to school and learned something that they could immediately take home and use, parents would demand more from schools and ensure that all of their children became enrolled in school. There must be more options for working adults to use the knowledge acquired in school. Then school could be viewed as something other than a lottery that few can win.
Countries in Africa must address the issue of language and ethnic differences. The divisions over ethnic differences manifest themselves in the schools with students receiving substandard instruction. Curriculum has to be meaningful and relevant and delivered in language that students understand. So issues like technology access, parental support and high expectations need to be managed within that context.