Hardly anyone in Africa would disagree with the contention that education is a main factor of development. Why, then, do so many Africans have the feeling that their governments neglect this fundamental area?
Mary Joy Pigozzi, executive-director at Educate A Child (EAC), a program of theEducation Above All Foundation, told DW in an interview that education is just one of the many important and complicated challenges that African countries face. But it is one that needs to have a very high priority.
DW: What is the state of education in Africa?
Mary Joy Pigozzi: A number of countries have made enormous progress since the year 2000. But progress stagnated around 2008. This is a problem particularly in Africa, because populations of African countries are growing at such a quick pace. We are seeing an increase in out-of-school children. This is an enormous challenge. And it is complicated by several other factors, including the increasing number of conflicts on the continent, their devastating effect on the families and also what appears to be less available funding for education.
But can population growth be reason enough for the decrease of school attendance?
It's not just population growth. But population growth is an issue when the education infrastructure isn't growing at the same pace. Another reason is poverty. In places where people are poor they may have to make choices about how they allocate resources, both financial and human. Sometimes, that results in children not being able to get an education. Health is another issue. If we look at places like Liberia, which suffered seriously from the Ebola crisis, then you realize children couldn't go to school for health reasons. And there are some that can't go because of malaria or other things. Nutrition can be an issue. If children are really hungry, they may not be able to go school. And even when they do, they may not be able to learn.
One of the aims of the foundation Education for All is to advance social and economic development through quality education. That raises the issue of teachers' salaries. Many countries in Africa pay their teachers poorly. What is your take on this problem?
Our focus is not on teachers per se. We focus on the out-of-school children, and together with partners we define and identify the barriers that keep those children out of education. In many cases, solutions include support for teachers. Generally we would prefer not to pay teachers' salaries. Those are long-term costs which are not well covered by project funding - which is time-bound.
But one of the things our program realizes is that teachers will teach better if they know they have support. It does not need to be only money. Teachers also need to know they have leadership that believes in them and parents who care about what they do. A lot of our partners have concentrated on improving teacher management as well as community management and participation. Support can come in the form of easing the teachers' teaching load. In many cases, the number of students in a classroom is very large. I can remember being in a school in the Gambia where there were about 50 children packed into a tiny classroom. They couldn't even all sit, because there wasn't enough space. For a teacher to have someone to help break up the size of the class is a huge reward.
African children need to learn new skills
We also know that the biggest part of African education is theoretical. Do you foresee a move towards a more practical approach, especially focusing on innovation?
The non-governmental organizations that we work with are innovative. They look at different ways of doing things. They really do focus on what the students need. Where I think we have an opportunity to make a real difference is to show ministries of education new models that have been developed, and to encourage them to include some of this diversity in their systems. We support many alternative learning programs, for, say, refugees. We would also like to help ministries be aware of the various ways that people can learn, the different approaches that have value and can give kids the kind of background they need to function well in an education system. We need to think about education differently. It's not just about being practical. It's about education that allows people to function today and in the future. People must learn communication skills, questioning skills, analytic skills, integrating skills. In a world that's changing very quickly, it is highly unlikely that these young people will hold a single kind of job for the rest of their lives. We need a very different kind of curriculum than the one we currently use.
Mary Joy Pigozzi is executive-director of the Educate A Child (EAC), a program of the Education Above All Foundation.
The interview was conducted by Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth