5 reasons for $5+ billion: Interview with Hamzat Lawal and Vivian Onano

GPE asks Hamzat Lawal and Vivian Onano 5 questions on the power of education. GPE's financing campaign seeks to raise at least $5 billion over five years to transform education for up to 1 billion children in 90 countries and territories.

June 16, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
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5 minutes read
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Interview with Vivian Onano and Hamzat Lawal

Hamzat Lawal is the Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE). Vivian Onano is the Founder/Director of the Leading Light Initiative.

Q1: What impact have you seen in your work and community as a result of COVID-19? What actions have youth leaders and activists taken in response to this?

Hamzat: As an organization known for tracking government’s funds and effective delivery of public services, we made it a point to #FollowCOVIDMoney as an influx of millions of dollars were invested in Nigeria to combat the pandemic. Youth Leaders and activists used technology to demand transparency from the government.

We mobilized activists to track government’s spending and hold the government to account through social media. Although there remained gaps in procurement processes and inconsistencies in preparedness, as a result of our advocacy, we witnessed an increase in the government's responsiveness to citizen’s queries on social media.

Our national radio programs also helped to combat COVID-19 misinformation in rural communities, facilitate access to health services and ensure that government interventions got to the right people.

Vivian: COVID-19 led to school closures; in my community many children could not participate in virtual school because they didn’t have the gadgets, the teachers were not equipped to teach virtually, and they couldn’t afford the cost of mobile data. Many parents who lost their income can’t afford to put food on the table, much less mobile data for their children to access online learning materials. This shows how severe the digital divide is when it comes to learning.

I have been inspired by the renewed sense of urgency among young people to do good. I have seen them create tutoring opportunities for those kids who cannot afford data or online learning materials.

Q2: COVID-19 continues to add pressure on government budgets, particularly across Africa. In this context, why should education financing remain a priority? And what is the significance of GPE’s upcoming Global Education Summit for education financing?

Hamzat: Governments across Africa are focusing on implementing post-pandemic economic recovery plans, but education financing should also be a priority. The biggest risk to economic recovery is the lack of growth; and sustainable growth is impossible without investment in education.

Health and education spending are critical to achieving a resilient post-pandemic economic recovery. Now is the time to prioritize and increase education financing to ensure that children in low-income areas access basic learning resources. This is why GPE’s upcoming Global Education Summit for education financing is utterly important.

Vivian: It’s imperative that governments prioritize education and increase its funding. Otherwise, governments will be jeopardizing the future of their nations. Only an educated nation can be well prepared to fight future pandemics, eradicate poverty and tackle climate change.

Access to education for all is a prerequisite for achieving the other development goals. GPE’s Global Education Summit is important to rally leaders and other education stakeholders to prioritize financing education, and it’s a great opportunity to make a strong call to action to all leaders to leave no child behind.

Q3: Hamzat, in your experience, what is the role of citizens, especially youth, in ensuring that education financing is allocated and spent efficiently and equitably?

My experience over the last ten years championing education campaigns has proven that young people play pivotal roles in canvassing increased education funding and also influence education policies and planning. These roles include continuous government engagement from the budgeting stage to implementation.

As a matter of fact, anti-corruption campaigns and project supervision are even more critical in societies where the resources for the implementation of education policies and projects can easily slip into private pockets. Young people can advocate for change and drive the implementation of a transformational government that is people-focused and service delivery-driven.

Q4: Vivian, as an active advocate for the transformative power of education, especially for girls, what will we lose if girls’ education is not deliberately included and prioritized as part of governments’ COVID-19 response?

Approximately 20 million young girls won’t be able to return to school due to teenage pregnancies, child marriage, forced manual labor, and being caregivers to their families. It breaks my heart because I know that without an education these young girls will continue to languish in poverty with very limited or no opportunities at all.

Investing in girls not only impacts their life, but also the community that she comes from. If we don’t prioritize girls’ education, we risk rolling back the gains made towards girls’ right to access quality and safe education. I urge governments and international stakeholders in education to ensure that girls’ education is prioritized and enough financial resources are pledged to make it a reality.

Q5: What do you remember most about school? Were there moments or teachers that had a particularly big impact on you?

Vivian: One moment really impacted my life for the best. I have a deep voice and in kindergarten children made fun of me, so I stopped answering questions or reading a lot. A teacher noticed and she told me that I should be proud of my voice because it is strong and powerful. That boosted my confidence and I resumed my active role during class.

Since then, I was never bothered by what other kids said about my voice. Those words of encouragement stayed with me also in primary school, where kids continued to make fun of my voice. When I look back at all the work I have done, it’s a true testament that indeed my voice is my power.

Hamzat: I particularly enjoyed Social Studies in early secondary school, which led to my interest in government. My Social Studies and Government class teachers helped shape my thought process on advocating for justice and a better world.

Since then, I have been involved in advocacy and activism, from Boy Scouts to leading debates and pro-governance dialogues from a young age and now as a Social Accountability Activist. It’s been an interesting journey.

Read other interviews from this series.

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