In the heart of Chad, twenty years ago, a young French teacher introduced his pupils to mathematics using a textbook giving details of the energy produced by… a skier on snowy slopes. Two decades later, Gaël Giraud, who is now Chief Economist for AFD, shares the anecdote during the conference “Africa: What school for tomorrow?”, organized in partnership with Le Monde Afrique on 19 January in Paris. A little moment of self-mockery to better sum up mixed results: while the challenge of primary education is in the process of being won in Africa, with over 80% of children completing this grade, the quality of the education on offer remains a challenge.
“Schooling is not learning”, sums up Jaime Saavedra, Director of Education at the World Bank and former Minister for Education of Peru. The figures prove he is right: among the children in school in Sub-Saharan Africa, 93% have not acquired basic reading skills and 86% in mathematics. A disturbing figure, which prompts a reaction by Jaime Saavedra in front of a packed room: “The situation is serious!”.
The education of girls, skills, employment, citizen values
For Gaël Giraud and Jaime Saavedra, efforts for education must consequently focus on the quality of learning. Senegal has clearly understood this, with the implementation of a “program to improve quality and transparency” mentioned by Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Senegal’s Minister for Education. The importance of assessment, mastering basic skills and access to school for all, particularly for girls, the poorest children and those from rural areas, are among the themes developed by all the speakers.
The goal of education and training is also “to work for employment”, as pointed out by the Chief Executive Officer of AFD, Rémy Rioux, supported in this sense by the French Minister for Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer. A characteristic to which the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, adds health, as an educated population is a population in better health. The issue of values is less quantifiable, but equally essential and needs to be included in the debate. “Quality education involves the transmission of citizen values and education in peace”, points out the representative of UNESCO.
Africa and Europe, common challenges
In this respect, as with everything when it comes to education, “our challenges are common between Africa and Europe”, considers Jean-Michel Blanquer. “On education, Africa can take new paths and innovate with a great deal of flexibility. We need to learn from these experiences.” Another common issue to the two continents: “How to be more human in an increasingly technological world, marked by climate change and urban development?”, asks the Minister, while giving the answer to the public: “The first response lies in education.”
Effectively training teachers and giving them the means to entirely devote themselves to their profession is also a priority for the actions which need to be conducted, without forgetting the necessary overhaul of curricula. So that we no longer see a skier in the middle of the desert…
But to achieve this, Official Development Assistance for education needs to increase: “It represents 5 dollars per child per year in Sub-Saharan Africa”, notes Gaël Giraud. “More money is needed”, emphasizes Jaime Saavedra, who was supported in his quest a little later in the day by Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education: “Financing is never sufficient for education! We can no longer accept the current situation.” This will be the main challenge for the conference to replenish the resources of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) organized in Dakar on 1 and 2 February.