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Op-Ed: Empowering African Youth Through Education: DAC 2024

EVERY year, on June 16, the Day of the African Child (DAC) serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges and opportunities facing Africa’s youth in social, political, and economic realms. The day commemorates the 1976 Soweto Uprising, where black schoolchildren protested apartheid’s discriminatory education policies. This historic event remains a powerful symbol of resistance and a critical moment in South Africa’s fight for freedom and equality. The African Union (AU) established June 16 as the Day of the African Child to honour the bravery and sacrifice of those students. Today, it raises awareness about the issues facing African children, promotes children’s rights, and encourages collective action to improve their lives and future prospects.

As we commemorate the Day of the African Child in 2024, the theme Education for All – The Time is Now resonates with profound significance. These words encapsulate not only a vision but also a mandate deeply ingrained in the fabric of our continent’s aspirations. From the northern reaches to the southern tip, from the western coasts to the eastern shores of Africa, leaders have long recognised the transformative power of education in shaping the future of our continent. Their voices echo a unified call to action, urging us to confront the barriers obstructing educational access and harness the potential that lies within our youth.

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However, despite progress, challenges persist in ensuring universal access to quality education for Africa’s children. Political instability, conflicts, inadequate infrastructure, lack of resources and quality teachers, socio-economic disparities, and cultural barriers continue to deprive children of their right to education. These challenges impede Africa’s academic progress, exacerbating poverty and underdevelopment. The Covid-19 pandemic further intensified these challenges, widening the education gap and exacerbating existing inequalities.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s Institute for Statistics (UIS), sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between 12 and 14. Almost 60 percent of youth between 15 and 17 are not in school. UIS also highlights the importance of girls’ education. Across the region, 9 million girls between 6 and 11 will never attend school, compared to 6 million boys. Their disadvantage starts early: 23 percent of girls are out of primary school compared to 19 percent of boys. By adolescence, the exclusion rate for girls is 36 percent compared to 32 percent for boys.

Moving forward demands a collective commitment to prioritise education as a fundamental human right and a catalyst for sustainable development. Investments in teacher training, curriculum development, and educational infrastructure are essential to ensure quality education for all. Creating peaceful, safe, and conducive environments is crucial for children in conflict areas. Furthermore, efforts must address the root causes of inequality and discrimination, including gender disparities and socio-economic inequities.

The Day of the African Child also stands as an annual reminder of the continent’s commitment to safeguarding the rights and welfare of its youngest citizens. In this endeavour, the AU and the UN must play pivotal roles.

The AU, as the premier continental institution, bears a fundamental responsibility in advancing the rights of African children. The theme Education for All – The Time is Now echoes the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child adopted in 1990 and the AU’s Agenda 2063, which envisions a prosperous, peaceful, and inclusive Africa where children are empowered to reach their full potential.

The AU can make a significant impact by promoting policy coherence and coordination among member states. It can help countries develop and implement effective strategies to improve access to education in both peaceful and conflict-affected areas, enhance the quality of teaching and learning, and address the underlying drivers of inequality and exclusion. Leveraging its convening power, the AU can mobilise resources and foster partnerships with regional and international stakeholders to scale up interventions and maximise impact.

Similarly, the UN plays a crucial role in supporting Africa’s efforts to realise the right to education for all children. Through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 4 on quality education, the UN has set ambitious targets to ensure inclusive and equitable education for all by 2030. Specialised agencies like UNESCO and UNICEF provide valuable support in areas such as curriculum development, teacher training, and monitoring and evaluation.

Beyond these institutional roles, both the AU and the UN have a moral imperative to ensure no child is left behind. This requires renewed focus on marginalised and vulnerable groups, including girls, children with disabilities, refugees, and internally displaced persons, who face multiple barriers to accessing education.

As the AU and UN do their part, Africa’s leaders and those in the education sector must act. Cristina Duarte, the Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Africa, states, ‘Education in Africa stands at a crossroads, confronting dual challenges related to the juxtaposition of existing deficits with the rapidly evolving demands of the Digital Age. Despite efforts across several African countries to turn the tide, the number of out-of-school children remains stubbornly high. With the rapid advancement of 21st-century technologies, African educational systems must adapt swiftly to remain relevant and competitive.’

DAC 2024’s theme brings to attention the imperative of ensuring our children get educated. As we strive to achieve this, we draw wisdom from an African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Education is a collective responsibility, requiring engagement from individuals, families, communities, civil society, governments, and international bodies. It also requires sustained political will and strategic action.

By working together and in partnership, we can create an enabling environment where every child on the continent has the opportunity to learn, grow, thrive, and realise their full potential.

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