The Harvard Club New York played host to a landmark event, the Human Capital Africa (HCA) Roundtable on the learning crisis in Africa.
The event was held alongside the United Nations General Assembly and brought together Heads of State, Ministers of Education, business leaders, civil society organizations, and distinguished African intellectuals from different sectors.
The aim was to discuss the crucial role of foundational learning in enhancing education for the future of Africa and to highlight the leadership being demonstrated across the continent to tackle this issue.
Mr. Frank Nweke, a member of the Human Capital Africa corporate board, opened the roundtable on behalf of Dr Joyce Banda, the Chair of the Advisory Board, former President of Malawi.
She highlighted the magnitude of the learning crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa and shared some hope that evidence-based approaches can help reverse the situation.
The event commenced with a compelling address by Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, the Founder and CEO of Human Capital Africa, who set the tone for the day by emphasising the urgency of the learning crisis. She highlighted the need and the urgency to address the fact that 9 out of 10 children in Africa are unable to read with understanding by the age of ten. Importantly, she celebrated the leadership demonstrated across the continent to take ownership of the challenge.
“Education is a key catalyst to resolve many of the challenges faced by our continent. Every child deserves quality education and this can only be achieved if we all take responsibility and invest in foundational literacy and numeracy wherever we are. If we do not, then the ripple effect will extend beyond Africa, to the economies of big nations. Setting the right foundations for learning during the early years, before the child ends grades 2 and 3, is fundamental. This is a challenge we can solve, and we can change the situation faster than we imagine if we are all coordinated. I am inspired by the leadership being demonstrated by African governments.”
Speaking at the event, Mark Suzman, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, added:
“We’re all here because we believe every child deserves quality education. A great education is essential for a healthy future for all. Unlocking that potential starts with our children and young people, especially in Africa. By 2050, one in every four people on the planet will be African. Fifty per cent of the African population will be under 25. Many of the people who will transform the continent—and find solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges are children now. These are the people who will start businesses that lift up their communities, who will tackle climate change and build food security, and who will make discoveries that can help reduce maternal mortality and eradicate malaria. The time to act is now. It’s valuable to make these commitments here in New York – but the real work is being done by talented teachers and school leaders in classrooms and communities across Africa.”
The work to improve education in Africa is being led by committed governments across the continent who are taking ownership of the need to develop solutions that will address the learning crisis.
Their work will inform not just the approach that is taken across the wider African continent but has important lessons for how to tackle this challenge globally.
The leadership being taken by African governments was represented by the Minister of Education of Malawi, Madalitso Wirima Kambauwa and the State Minister of Basic Education for Uganda, Dr. Joyce Moriku.
“Malawi is taking a holistic approach to policy making that prioritises foundational learning and we are making significant advancements. We recognise that the teacher is the most important part of the learning process, and we are improving the training and deployment of teachers – ensuring that they are equipped to teach, and are deployed to the areas that need them most – especially rural areas.
“We are enhancing school feeding programmes so that children have food in their stomachs when they learn, targeting an expansion from 2200 schools today, to the 6900 primary schools in the country. Finally, we recognise the importance of an integrated assessment framework to help guide us, and we have begun the process to harmonise our assessment tools, including the use of the HCA scorecard.
Malawi launched its first pilot in Lilongwe City in July 2023 to gather information on HCA’s Micro-Learning Indicators. We tested for literacy and numeracy skills. The Ministry and HCA teams worked closely together to tailor the data collection tools to the specific context of Malawi. We also conducted brief surveys to grasp the experiences of teachers and students within the education system.
“We are determined to continue this journey, in partnership with HCA, as we champion the need to collect data and use it to enhance transparency and accountability at all levels. Foundational learning is the backbone of future learning, and together we can chart a better future for our children.”
Dr Joyce Moriku also added: “As a country we have moved from commitment to action to an investment in the human capital scorecard to ensure that we collect the data we need to make policy decisions. Foundational learning provides the basic building blocks of learning. More investments should be made and there is a need to learn from homegrown solutions to fix the learning crisis. Ultimately, our aim is to establish a system capable of understanding classroom needs, implementing structured pedagogical interventions, observing progress and adjusting interventions based on the system’s reaction, and maintaining regular accountability to the targets we set to improve FLN outcomes.”
Delivering the keynote address, Professor Jeffrey Sachs said: “This is the most important meeting taking place this week at the UN – this is the most important goal for Africa – there is no investment that has a higher economic, social, financial, or human return than education. There is no development without education. We must invest in children and the infrastructure to ensure children have what they require to learn. There is a need for a plan to ensure every child in Africa has access to free education at the upper secondary school level. The biggest question in my 43-year career is why we are not investing as much in education – education is everything.”
The work of Human Capital Africa was recognised by partners from across the development, private sector and philanthropic ecosystems, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education, USAID, FCDO, Equity Bank, the Aliko Dangote Foundation and the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Each organisation is committed to working together to resolve the learning crisis.
Closing the event, Dr. Ezekwesili said:
“We must all work together to ensure that we retain a focus on this issue and continue to build its salience across the continent, and across the world. We are making progress, but we must reinforce our efforts if we are going to address this challenge. I am inspired by and so thankful for the commitment, and the leadership being demonstrated by so many of our leaders in Africa, and for the support that we have from this ecosystem. Our commitments are manifesting into action, but this journey is still just beginning. We will work harder, together, to ensure that no child is left behind. Thank you.”
The Human Capital Africa scorecard will be launched in a number of new countries and subregions over the coming months, and as we approach the African Year of Education in 2024, the African Ministerial Coalition on Foundational Learning, convened by HCA and ADEA will continue to share knowledge and showcase success to the rest of the continent, and the world.