Human Capital Africa convened Heads of State, Ministers of Education, business leaders, civil society organisations and prominent African intellectuals at the Harvard Club in New York today. The event took place on the sidelines of the UN Transforming Education Summit in New York to call attention to the scale of the learning crisis in Africa, where 9 out of 10 children are unable to read with understanding by the age of 10.
The scale of the learning crisis in Africa is being more widely understood, with a range of international and African leaders making important commitments to prioritise foundational learning over the coming years. As these initiatives and interventions are implemented, an independent monitoring mechanism is essential to ensure accountability and provide the insights governments need to change and adapt.
As the continent most affected by the learning crisis, Africa is taking a leading role in designing and delivering solutions. The HCA Learning Scorecard ranks countries in SSA on the quality of primary education. Countries are scored on indicators in 6 categories including Enrolment, Completion, Learning, Resourcing, Remediation and Socio economic factors. These represent the ability of the education sector to provide quality education to children at a young age to prepare them for a future of learning.
Speaking at the launch, HCA founder Dr Oby Ekekwesili said: “It has been incredibly encouraging to see recognition of the learning crisis at this Summit, and to see the level of commitment amongst African leaders, policy makers and business leaders to address the generational challenge the learning crisis represents. This is a problem we are going to crack and I am totally committed to ensuring that we take the corrective measures necessary. To do this we need a common way to assess progress and guide decision making.
It is clear from the results of our inaugural HCA scorecard that we have considerable work to do, with the majority of countries scoring poorly on our 2022 indicators. By providing these benchmarks, we have an opportunity to celebrate the countries making advances, and to focus on those that need most help. Through a series of quarterly and annual reviews, we can ensure the right assistance is being provided at the right time. I am especially grateful to the countries that have partnered with us to launch the initial scorecards, and to the Government and Minister of Education of Malawi, who has walked us through the Malawi assessment today. This is the kind of leadership we need on the continent.”
Commenting on Malawi’s participation in the inaugural scorecard, Minister for Education Agnes Nyalonge said: “We have adopted the HCA scorecard because we know that taking known and reliable data and using it to guide our actions means we are better able to develop policies and better able to implement them. Our number one reform is to focus on data informed decision making and we are using it to guide our response.
The beauty of this tool is that it allows all the partners involved in the education system to understand where they are against their objectives, embedding an inclusive approach. It enables regular multi-level reviews at policy and district level, allowing for mid-course corrections and helping to build collective ownership and accountability.”
The President of Guinea Bissau, His Excellency Umaro Sissoco Embaló, speaking in his capacity as Chairman of ECOWAS reinforced his and the region’s commitment to take action saying; “9 out of 10 children cannot read a simple sentence by the age of ten, this is an issue of the utmost importance and Africa must not let itself be left behind. We are committed to taking urgent and decisive action to ensure all children develop foundational learning skills to realise their full potential. Today I take this opportunity to urge us to convert the commitments we have made into actions and interventions in your countries. We must learn from best practice to implement the right solutions and leverage the scorecard being launched today to measure and report on progress regularly, using these reviews to motivate our people when they succeed and to hold them accountable for underperformance.”
The importance of Foundational Learning to the business community was recognised by Aliko Dangote, President of the Dangote Group of companies, who said in a message to the event that; “This learning crisis is getting worse by the day and has consequences far beyond the classroom. By 2030, about a quarter of the world’s population under the age of 25 will be in or from Africa. So the economic prospects, not only of Africa but of the world, depend on the skills, capabilities and productivity of our youth.
A large proportion of job applicants not only lack basic qualifications but also struggle with simple computation and comprehension. This hinders their ability to take up jobs we are desperate to offer and impedes those already in employment. Skills acquired early in primary school form the foundation for later learning and are fundamental to a productive, capable workforce and a strong economy. Gaining digital skills, or more rudimentary technical and vocational qualifications, is harder without basic learning.
Governments and businesses together need to look to the future and set policies and plans to focus on foundational learning. Investing in these basic fundamental skills would allow African countries to enhance productivity, promote greater inclusion and build a workforce that can adapt to the markets of the future and drive prosperity for all.
The importance of education to Africa’s future prosperity was highlighted by Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation who said: “By the end of the century, Africa’s youth population will be twice Europe’s total population. Even if we are at low levels of foundational learning today, the fact that we can make progress creates hope, and that is so important if we are going to succeed.”
Reinforcing the importance of addressing the learning crisis, renowned Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie said “Reading is magical. Marks on paper become stories in your head. Reading helps you to think critically and contextually, and enables reasoning. We cannot talk about our problems if we don’t understand them, let alone begin to solve them.
Everything I know today I can link back to what I learnt in my primary school in Nsukka. It was the springboard that allowed me to leap, the foundation on which I could build. Every African child deserves that. It should be considered as a moral imperative. The foundation is everything, without it everything falls apart.”
The HCA scorecard will be formally launched with African Policy Makers at the ADEA triennale Summit in Mauritius from October 19-21.