ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF

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The ‘Year of Education’ must be a turning point for girls’ education in Africa

Education is a fundamental human right and a prerequisite for progress and development. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions enshrine the right to education for all and focus on the critical role that education plays in fostering equality and inclusive growth.

Recognizing its transformative power as a catalyst of sustainable development, the African Union (AU) designated ‘Education’ as its Theme of the Year for 2024. The recent 37th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, cemented the place of education at the center of the union’s development agenda. 

Held under the theme of “Educate an Africa fit for the 21st Century,” the summit was an opportunity to highlight the progress achieved in expanding access to quality education and to identify the gaps that still need to be addressed to ensure that inclusive, lifelong, and quality education is available across the continent.

Central to the efforts to put Africa on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals is placing a stronger focus on girls’ education as a linchpin for future progress and inclusive growth. However, African girls and young women face increasing difficulties in realizing their right to education. Systemic challenges, such as poverty, undermine their educational experience and outcomes – from early childhood education to primary and secondary education, and beyond. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of girls out of school is now on the increase, with millions of primary- and secondary-school-age girls missing out on their education. The quality of education is also of concern as most children in the sub-Saharan region need to be taught to read simple text by the age of 10.

To build resilient, future-looking education systems on the continent, new policies must be implemented to bridge inequalities and offer girls opportunities to learn and nurture their skills and ambitions as active members of society.

By promoting evidence-based policies and initiatives, as well as creating innovative financing mechanisms to overhaul the learning and teaching systems, African governments can address the disparities in education that still plague communities across the continent. 

Public and private sector players can enhance national, regional, and international measures to add a gender lens to their efforts to address Africa’s education shortcomings. From capitalizing on the AU’s new position as a member of the G20 to further developing innovative financing mechanisms – such as the African Development Bank’s African Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Fund – African nations can begin to break down the barriers that stand in the way of achieving equity in education.

By doing so, quality and inclusive education can become attainable to millions of girls and young women, resulting in wide-reaching benefits to their physical and mental well-being, as well as to the socio-economic development of their countries. Equity in education is also a fundamental step toward creating a level playing field at the highest levels of leadership, as highlighted by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

 

“Through quality education and training, leadership roles in all spheres of life can be attainable goals for African women and girls.”

 

The quality education of girls and young women is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the lives of all members of society. Investing in their education in 2024 is nothing less than investing in peace, prosperity, and inclusive sustainable development for years to come.

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