“The financial world must play a dual role in favor of African human capital”

LA TRIBUNE AFRIQUE – Later strong commitments on issues of corruption and transparency, what motivates your attention to African human capital today?

OBY EZEKWESILI In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 100,000 children are born every day. And unfortunately every day, we find new ways to fail hundreds of thousands of people, denying them the opportunities they need to build the levels of human capital needed to thrive in today’s world.

Probably the most critical of our failures in building this necessary human capital is our failure to guarantee a high-quality education for all of our children. Did you know that of those hundred thousand born every day, about ninety thousand are currently unable to read a simple sentence by the age of 10?

Very often I imagine how he could have been one of those ninety thousand children who – among other injustices – are also faced with an unfair and ineffective education system. If I were one of these ninety thousand children, I would dream of an Oby defending my rights. That is why I had the honor to launch Human Capital Africa, an organization founded to ensure that we fight this injustice and work with national leaders, policy makers, donors and all partners to guarantee this right to all children of this region and of this continent. .

“I have always insisted on the importance of celebrating the successes of Africa and not always presenting the continent in a negative light. However, you also have to be able to recognize when a situation needs to be improved.”

Referring to these data, you are probably referring to the latest World Bank study that reports that “9 out of 10 children in sub-Saharan Africa cannot read and understand a simple text by the age of 10”. Let’s talk about it “learning crisis”. The subject will be at the heart of the Transforming Educational Committee of the United Nations in September in New York. But in view of the intellectual dynamics observed in the continent in recent decades, isn’t this (statistical) conclusion a bit exaggerated?

I like to recognize the existence of some exceptional achievements in education on the continent, as a number of Africans, children and young people have excelled in education and related activities at the turn of this century. I have always insisted on the importance of celebrating Africa’s successes and not always presenting the continent in a negative light. However, on this question of the poor performance of our children in basic skills in literature and numeracy, we must recognize the facts observed through this research work, to be able to provide the appropriate answers.

The fact that the majority of children who make up these 9 out of 10 – unable to read and understand a simple text at “the age of 10” – they are children of the poor left in failed public schools, it means that we must face the problem with all possible solutions, to avoid perpetuating poverty. According to the World Bank, young people represent 60% of all unemployed Africans. One of the main contributors to this unemployment is the lack of skills, which prevents these young people from becoming productive members of society. This has a direct impact on their future income and their chance for a better life. In the long term, this generation of children and youth is projected to lose $10 billion in future income, or nearly 10% of global GDP.

Given that this learning crisis can have a huge impact on our economy and has and will continue to rob individuals of a chance for a better life, I certainly don’t think this is overstated. It is this sad reality that will inspire people to act for change.

The continent has two major development agendas (United Nations 2030 and African Union 2063) of which education is a pillar. The Covid-19 has dealt a blow to the dynamics due to the confinements… While training is essential to have qualified resources, what measures can countries take to ensure this human capital, so that they can meet their economic and social challenges major?

Covid-19 has set us back a few steps in our struggle to meet the challenge of learning. This also created inequalities in learning due to the digital divide, with many children and young people unable to benefit from any teaching time when schools were closed. It should be noted that girls were also disproportionately the first victims of this situation.

To face the negative impacts of the pandemic, countries must do several things: recognize the challenge posed by COVID-19 by reviewing the current state of education in the country – especially learning in primary school; prioritize the problem at all levels of government; work immediately to reach all children and help them stay in school; help teachers to assess children’s learning and teach them according to their level; prioritizing teaching the fundamentals, strengthening remedial learning and supporting the psychosocial health and well-being of every child; collect, report and use data about student learning and the education system.

Two other things that I think are equally important are: learning from evidence and best practices from other countries, and implementing what works; hold yourself and others accountable for regularly reviewing progress.

Fervent actor of the financial world yesterday, what do you think about the way that the actors of finance can contribute to making things move forward?

In my opinion, the financial world has a major role to play in improving education based on the agenda of the UN and the AU. This role is twofold. The first point refers to the global community and financial institutions that should collaborate with African countries to mobilize sufficient resources that support the great vision of education, especially basic literacy and numeracy. Considering that in the wake of Covid-19, the financial support for development for education has decreased in percentage, it is crucial to discuss new ideas to mobilize and exploit the additional flows, because without sufficient financial resources, it will be difficult for countries in the process of development to get. the goal of transforming education.

“Without sufficient financial resources, it will be difficult for developing countries to achieve the goal of transforming education. »

The second component relates to the fact that countries must be supported to respond to a request for effective and efficient use of their national resources and development aid from Africa’s friends. This is something that I think is often overlooked and leads to misallocation of funds or corruption. Donors should encourage recipients to establish a transparent performance review or accountability routine that not only acts as a check on donors, but also for recipients to review their performance, identify gaps, and take action to improve.

In our countries in general, private education takes over their education because the public education system is often considered a failure. But this induces an increasingly exorbitant cost for the populations, thus depriving the less popular of a quality education, as you pointed out before. How to solve this problem? Is there a balance to be struck between the public sector and the private sector in terms of national education?

I certainly don’t think there is any other viable alternative. There is no doubt that private education fills many gaps left by the public education system, but it comes at a cost. And unfortunately, the people of most countries in Africa cannot afford this cost.

Even in developed countries, private education exists alongside the public education system and not as its substitute. In our context, this substitution is even more difficult. I firmly believe that access to publicly funded education at the basic level, for those who do not have the ability to pay for private education, is the mandatory responsibility of every government.

“In terms of national education, the private sector cannot replace the public sector”

They are also known for being the originator of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls Freed, but many of them eventually disappeared. How can countries exposed to terrorist attacks deal with the problem of quality education for all, in complete safety?

Terrorism is a major cause of many children dropping out of school in politically unstable and dangerous countries. It becomes dangerous for students to go to school, teachers try to leave the country and children are also at risk of being recruited by armed groups operating in the areas.

It is incumbent on national and international organizations to work collectively to ensure that children are not deprived of this fundamental right due to these political or security disturbances. The Safe Schools Declaration is a global action to protect learning. These initiatives must be implemented on the ground, in the interests of children, both by the international community and by the countries that have joined them. We must foster stronger relations between the security establishment and ministries and education administrators to design innovative models that can ensure and guarantee access to learning and schools, even in communities affected by the conflict.

Interview by Ristel Tchounand.