African leaders and policy makers call for urgent action on foundational learning

Paris, June 29th 2022: African leaders and education policy makers have called for the urgent prioritisation of foundational literacy and numeracy to address a learning emergency that has left 9 out of 10 African children unable to understand a simple text by the age of 10.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UNESCO Pre-Summit for September’s flagship UN Transforming Education Summit, Human Capital Africa Advisory Board Chair and former President of Malawi Joyce Banda said: “Of the 100,000 children who are born everyday in Africa, 90% will be unable to read well enough to understand a simple text by the time they celebrate their 10th birthday. That means we are failing nearly 33 million children every year. How can Africa prosper as a continent if this is the case? How will our children compete in a modern economy if they cannot read and write? We have no choice but to tackle this learning crisis head on.

We are delighted that the global community has begun to recognise the severity of the problem. We need all African governments to do the same, and we have to work tirelessly to ensure that these translates into action.”

Emphasising the potentially devastating impact of the learning crisis on Africa’s future, Dame Graca Michel, the former First Lady of Mozambique and South Africa, who has been an education advocate for decades said: “The results of our apathy and lack of action to improve our education systems and invest in better academic outcomes will be felt for decades to come. Quite clearly, we are condemning the African continent to be even worse off in 20 years’ time than it is now.

Africa’s children are being handicapping and we are setting up the next generations for catastrophe. There will never be escape from the entrapment of intergenerational cycles of poverty Africa finds itself in now, nor the ability to contribute our full talents to advance our societies or compete on a global stage should we continue on this path of self-destruction.

This is a failure of monumental proportions. The millions of children who are intellectually stunted by a lack of adequate learning opportunities today are the very same people who we are entrusting to lead our communities and our nations tomorrow.”

Human Capital Africa convened a panel of distinguished guests including Serigne Mbaye Thiam, the Minister of Education of Senegal, Honourable Agnes Nyalonje the Minister of Education from Malawi, Adama Momoh, the Director of policy and planning from Sierra Leone, as well as Professor Charles Soludo, the Governor of Anambra State in Nigeria, who shared their experiences having prioritised foundation learning in recognition of the scale of the crisis.

Demonstrating the practical steps that are already being taken to address the challenge, Honourable Agnes Nyalonje said: “We have started to focus on evidence informed policy making, and one of the things we want to do is to put our best teachers into grades 1-4. These children want to obtain an education but the system is failing them.”

Emphasising the importance of data, the Director of Policy at the Ministry of Education in Sierra Leone said: “We have established a national assessment unit to gauge learning outcomes and we have digitised our annual school census, to ensure we have the evidence we need to design informed policy.”

Concluding the event, Human Capital Africa founder and former Minister of Education in Nigeria Dr Oby Ezekwesili said: “We believe that the responsibility to get out of this crisis is our own. By working together, we can rapidly change the future of this generation, and those to follow. That is why I am so encouraged by the collaboration and knowledge sharing we have seen today, which is essential if we are to implement the solutions to this crisis quickly. It is critical that we understand this is not just about allocating resources, it is about prioritisation and focus. There are simple things that the progressive leaders we have seen today are implementing which can begin to move us forwards.”

To track the progress that African governments are making to resolve the crisis, and to drive transparency and accountability, Human Capital Africa is developing and will launch a scorecard, which will measure countries’ performance on indicators within six categories that represent the ability of the education sector to provide quality education to children at a young age and prepare them for a future of learning.