If there is one thing that is unarguably a consensus among a wide range of citizens of the world, it is the value society places on education. Education is a critical element for societal development, its impact is not only far reaching and lifelong but is also pervasive and boundless.
Interestingly this feeling is so unanimous that even those who have been denied access to education share it. This in turn suggests the severity of its adverse effects when it is not done right which can be deeply consequential and dreadful.
Presently, close to half of the world population, in one way or the other have a stake in education and/or related businesses. Pupils in pre-schools, elementary classes, and secondary level students, scholars in tertiary education systems, or educators of all ages are some among others constituting this enormous number.
This number is expected to double in the coming 30 to 35 years in Africa, where it is also projected that there will be nearly 1 billion youth (under 18) in Africa by the year 2050 (UNICEF).
Education is a key ingredient to all other essential needs of society (health, food, energy), with its multi-dimensional and multi-latitudinal impacts; education is something compulsory in the daily life society.
Whether to produce food, care for our health, or to be productive in any aspect of our economic life, we need decent education. In other words, education is key to have success in all other imperatives.
The question, therefore, is whether is earns the right proportion of attention equivalent to its compulsory role in the development of society. There may be several factors that contribute to the unfavorable decision to invest less in education, especially in developing countries.
However, one factor that certainly accounts for much of this is the obsession by policymakers with the need to deliver quick and visible interventions as opposed to long term impactful investments, largely because they have to show results and impress the population during their short-term office tenures.
Education along with other basic services, has always been something that governments have to secure to its citizens as their basic right. Although there is no disagreement on this fact, the service provided is neither sufficient nor meets the standard of quality to bring about desired change to livelihoods that extends to society, in general.
Since the year 2000, there has been considerable progress, as education was embraced in the MDGs that were adopted and implemented across the globe; unfortunately success only prevailed in terms of quantity with little or no attention to quality, as the motto was “education for all.” Besides, the MDGs did not have full coverage of the entire value chain; it only called for universal primary education. Secondary and tertiary education levels were completely left out.
We are now through with the MDGs. These SDGs have taken over. Obviously the SDGs are more thoughtful and comprehensive, as it has drawn great lessons from the past. SDG 4 (Quality Education), calls for, among other things; greater quality at all levels, girls and boys education, vocational and trade based skills, special education for those with disabilities, etc.
Several attempts on costing SDGs have shown that Africa needs about USD 60 billion incremental fund / annum to implement SDG 4. Building additional schools and classrooms, improving the school infrastructure including basic IT capacity, and reducing the student to teacher ratios are some of the major interventions the arithmetic includes.
It is very unlikely that Africa will be able to meet this demand without partners, but Africa, can and should do more; it has to show seriousness on the matter and seek the right financial matching from other sources.
Tertiary education is not an exception. It is a victim of ill policies and neglect by national and international partners who at one point had without shame considered higher education as a luxury for Africa. Higher education in Africa suffers hugely from quality issues and the situation keeps worsening day by day.
Despite the fact that the number of universities has increased by 115 percent and enrollment more than doubled from 2.3 million to 5.2 million students between 2000 – 2010 (UNESCO, 2012), according to the world universities ranking of 2016, only one university from Africa was ranked among the best 100 universities.
Given the impact that tertiary education has on the efficiency and quality of primary and secondary education, it is naïve at best or grieving arrogance at worst, to expect any positive change when universities have such awful performances.
The writer is Director General, The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa (SDGC/A)
Copyright: Project Syndicate