Afripen: An Africa’s Youth Education Revolution in the 21st Century

By Matai Muon


Educational Quote by Alan Bloom (File photo)
Educational Quote by Allan Bloom (File photo)

August 14th 2018 (Nyamilepedia) – “If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents” there goes a conventional African proverb. In recent decades, Africa’s educational landscape has been minimally covered or worse, largely ignored. That is the best case scenario. The worst case has been that those who take the bull by the horns come not from within but outside our map. Throughout time and space, there has not been a visitor who could solve a domestic problem. A good visitor would recommend a solution. If the victim does not take it head on, they move to other areas, say polio eradication, malarial war, climate change you mention it. With no body taking charge in fixing our education, a great deal of humanitarian work shifts gears to other “critical issues” facing the continent. Abject poverty, dilapidating health care, civil wars, environmental conservation, the list goes on. Billions of dollars in aid has been injected into these ‘critical areas” over the years.

While a significant effort has been made in transforming the continent’s education, the alarm is ringing and Africa’s education skeleton is, borrowing a line from one African analyst a “time ticking bomb.” Africa’s educational statistics remains a big concern to the continent but more so, to the outside world where the mother continent finds refuge. Nelson Mandela could not have been more explicit many decades ago when he said “education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” Desktop research and several empirical studies into education show that countries like Singapore, China, India and South Korea have managed to move out of the basket of poverty because of impressive gains in learning achievements.

Africa, as your development economics texts might have told you was in the same line of business with South Korea, Singapore exactly six decades ago. In fact, Dambisa Moyo, an African economist and a staunch aid critic in the Dead Aid put it succinctly that some African countries were even higher in per capita GDP than China and India in the 60’s. Her argument reads, “Africa has been left behind because of aid epidemic.” We argue that the continent remained behind the scenes because of a learning deficit. Statistics show that about 10 million graduates enter the job market each year in Africa. That number looks promising you say. However, the World Bank data indicates that many graduates are not market ready by the time they leave campus. Demographic data tells us that by 2040, Africa’s work force is expected to surpass that of China and India. This is a clear message. Without access to quality education that provides a match with the market skills, Africa’s labor market faces a demographic disaster. This situation is what the World Bank calls the “global learning crisis. It defines it as a situation where more than 90% of children attending schools in Africa are unable to read at their grade level thus, cannot show anything for it.

The current aid funding in education has significantly declined to less than 10% of global official development assistance. It stands at $12 billion now per year. Africa gets about $1.2 billion out of that funding. Does that money go to education? The answer is a resounding no. With countries like Nigeria, Kenya ranking at the top of the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index annually, it is not a shock that money gets diverted in the continent. According to the Brookings Centre for Universal Education report, 61 million African children will reach adolescence lacking even the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. Does that shock you? If not, then what will? That statistics include your siblings. And if you are a married poor African youth, it includes your 10 years old daughter or 12 years old son. The realization of the Millennium Development Goals on both the Universal Primary Education and Secondary Education has equally stalled. 30 million school-age going kids in Africa are still out of primary school. That is one in every four kids in the continent. Worse still, those that are there are not learning effectively. The image in secondary education across the continent is even more nerve disturbing, only 28% finish this crucial transition. The rest goes to street, or join radical terrorist groups like Boko Haram of Nigeria or Al Shabaab of Somalia. This situation creates more poverty and more insecurity. Ironically, the aid community pumps billions of dollars to fight poverty and insecurity across Africa every year. Stupid!

According to the Brookings report, Africa needs a paradigm shift in education. The status quo is not working. It has failed. Africa’s education has been left staggering for almost a century. Outside solutions have been modest but real solutions have to come from within the Mother continent. That is why there is an Afripen. This model is going to be the first ever youth – led education network for the African youth by the African youth. Afripen is an acronym for Africa Positive Education Network. What is positive about it someone asks? Well, the fact is that youth from 14 countries of Central and Eastern Africa have unanimously agreed to fix the loopholes in Africa’s education bloodlines. Convened at the Young African Leaders Initiative forum in Nairobi, Kenya about a month ago, more than 80% of the youth agreed that Africa’s current education was not delivering. The standards are too old for the century and something should be done. It is rather motivating that many youth in Africa are involved in projects intended to modify, change or create more education opportunities in their countries. The idea of Afripen is to galvanize these already working energies into something bigger, more impactful for Africa. Afripen is a vast network of youth committed to better the standards of Africa’s education system. These are African youth carrying the trauma, and fatal challenges facing the continent’s education in their veins. So Afripen is the only youth education network truly committed to solving our continent’s most pressing education issues.

As domestic as it sounds, Afripen intends to promote education that speaks for Africa. For several decades, our learning system has rotten. The standards do not carry our own measure and some of the values taught are foreign in nature. As a result, the continent’s education system has remained stuck. It is no wonder that countries like Malaysia and Singapore have climbed higher and higher in the UNESCO ranking list over the years. With fair political systems and localized learning matrixes, the East Asian Tigers as known in the development circle have really come around. Afripen is going to be the voice for Africa’s education. Our model is unique in that there is no established network of education in Africa that is youth-led. The World Bank report indicates that Africa is a young continent with over 60% of the population below the age of 35. Afripen wants to create a space where by the African youth is given an education of not only facts but also of values so that they can benefit from the demographic dividend in their continent. Afripen’s vision is to transform Africa through value – based and issue – based education. Our hope is that you will join this noble war. The continent can only pick itself when it is armed with the tools of the twenty first century. Education is not just one of those tools; it is the only tool Africa needs to bring a new paradigm shift for its vibrant population. As Mandela would have it, “it is always impossible until it is done.”

The author is a founding member of Afripen. He is also a student of International Studies at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

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