5 reasons for $5+ billion: Interview with Sarah Anyang Agbor

In this serie, GPE asks changemakers five 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.

March 23, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
5 reasons for $5+ billion: Interview with H.E. Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor

H.E. Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor is the African Union Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI), which also encompasses education at all levels.

On April 20, the AU, in collaboration with the EU and UNICEF, will be hosting an education event “Building Skills for the Future," which aims to commit to invest in the priority areas of: access to quality education for all, including higher education and vocational training; equity and inclusion (leaving no child behind); and teaching and learning of skills and competences that respond to the needs of local economies and life in the 21st century. To register for the event, please click here.

1. By raising your hand, you recently supported GPE’s financing campaign to raise at least $5+ billion over five years. How can a fully funded GPE collaborate with the AU to jointly achieve strategic linkages between Ministries of Finance and Education for more and better domestic spending to provide young people with quality education?

The AU fully supports GPE’s campaign to raise $5+billion and protect domestic finance. Both are essential investments for effective and efficient education systems to deliver quality and inclusive educational services for all. And its campaign call to also protect education expenditure in domestic budgets is key to the pandemic recovery.

Together, GPE and AU are advocating to strengthen and transform education systems for impact at scale. The AU encourages its Member States to increase budget allocations for education, as domestic finance. Mobilizing more resources, and improving spending are central to quality education systems, as is supporting mutual accountability through inclusive policy dialogue and monitoring.

We need more and better financing because we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. COVID has made all too glaring structural inequalities and demonstrated the urgent need to enhance investments in connectivity for all learners. AU looks forward to working with partners like GPE and technology providers on the critical solutions needed for millions of children and youth across the continent.

2. The AU advocates for the prioritization of girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Given the AU theme for 2021 “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want” and the just-concluded AU Summit, what do you see as the key factors to increase girls’ participation in STEM and close the digital gender divide?

Digital transformation and women and girls' participation in STEM is critical to a more sustainable future. COVID highlighted the gender gap in digital access and exacerbated its effects. Girls face structural and cultural barriers and stereotypes that affect their expectations and lead them to choosing career paths outside of STEM. That is why AU/CIEFFA launched the “AfricaEducatesHer” campaign.

Increasing girls’ participation in STEM and closing the gender digital divide requires a gender-responsive approach that considers the gendered needs and experiences of boys and girls. We must address gaps through systemic policy interventions in education systems.

It is also important to change cultural norms and tackle stereotypes, share knowledge and research, and involve religious and traditional leaders at the grassroots level.

3. Your Department at the AU recently partnered with GPE to ensure that gender equality and inclusion are at the center of the GPE Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (KIX) COVID-19 Observatory for Africa, launched in November 2020. You kindly opened the launch event. In your view, how can innovative solutions and connectivity help to promote gender equality and improve access to education for the most marginalized children?

Education is a right. This requires equal access to quality education so every boy and girl can reach their full potential. COVID-19 and the subsequent lock down highlighted the need for connectivity to support distance learning for Africa’s youth.

The AU’s Continental Education Strategy (CESA 16-25) aims to ensure an enabling environment for all Africans to acquire the requisite knowledge and competencies for the continent’s development and is translated into a number of initiatives, including the DOTSS framework.

Endorsed by Ministers, DOTSS offers an integrated approach to transform Africa’s education systems and allowing Member States to reach remote and marginalized learners. DOTSS involves:

  • Digital and electricity connectivity of all schools in Africa
  • Online learning to complement classroom learning
  • Teacher development as facilitators of classroom and online learning
  • Safe learning environments in schools and online
  • Skills focused learning - including foundational skills, digital skills, 21st century skills and more.

Digital learning has the potential to revolutionize education through mainstreamed digital provision that reaches every girl and boy in Africa.

The DOTSS framework for the transformation of education in Africa
The DOTSS framework for the transformation of education in Africa.

4. In the context of combating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several competing priorities. What is the AU’s approach to ensure that education financing is protected by domestic budgets?

Budgets are the central means by which governments deliver their obligation to ensure the right to education and express their priorities and commitments.

AU has encouraged Ministries of Education to collaborate with Ministries of Finance to develop budget briefs. Through these briefs, the Ministries analyze and monitor budget allocations to education; assess the efficiency, effectiveness, equity and adequacy of past spending; inform key messages for policy; and increase staff knowledge on budget issues that are linked to sector results.

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

I remember that I did very well in subjects where the teachers were friendly and treated students well. I did not really like the subjects where the teachers were cynical and harsh.

The teachers who supervised my BA, MA and PHD dissertations had a huge impact in shaping my career course. To this day, my PhD supervisor continues to support me with mentorship and advice.

Read other interviews from this serie.

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