Africa’s pandemic recovery must include greater commitment to financing education

As African countries put in place various programs of distance learning during the pandemic, innovative financing is urgently needed to ensure that all children and youth get the skills they need to thrive.

July 06, 2020 by Jennifer Blanke, African Development Bank
4 minutes read
In Rwanda, the AfDB financed a US$12 million Regional Center of Excellence, which provides master’s degree programs in computer sciences and ICT in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University
In Rwanda, the AfDB financed a US$12 million Regional Center of Excellence, which provides master’s degree programs in computer sciences and ICT in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University

Credit: AfDB

The COVID-19 crisis is putting a spotlight on the fragility of Africa’s education systems. Over 250 million students across the continent are still shuttered out of classrooms, as governments gradually re-open schools and lift COVID-19 lockdown measures.

 To cope, several countries have launched innovations to ensure learning continues. Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana are using television and radio broadcasts while Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria are using internet-based content with private sector support.  

A mathematics lesson on Ethiopian TV
A mathematics lesson on Ethiopian TV
Kenya’s EDU channel announces learners’ morning class schedule
Kenya’s EDU channel announces learners’ morning class schedule

Despite these efforts, most state-run schools in sub-Saharan Africa do not have the resources to offer e-learning. Close to 90% of students do not have access to household computers and 82% are not able to get online.

In addition, girls face a disproportionate burden in cooking, cleaning and childcare responsibilities that compromises their ability to access distance learning solutions. Girls are also more vulnerable to gender-based violence, early marriage and teenage pregnancy with schools closed and learning interrupted.

A case study from Sierra Leone shows that girls experienced higher instances of teenage pregnancies during the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis, which hindered their ability to resume their studies.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to erase gains made in securing girls’ education, unless we take adequate measures to ensure that the education response and recovery are driven by gender equality.

Putting gender at the center of the education response and putting education investments at the center of Africa’s stimulus package are important for the immediate COVID response and long-term economic recovery.

Africa urgently needs innovative financing for education

The pandemic has laid bare the inadequacies and inequalities faced in the educational systems and the importance of rolling out technology and innovations, as well as curricula adapted to the rapidly changing workplace, to the changing learning challenges.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the importance of public and private sector investments in digital infrastructure and extending these facilities throughout countries to reach vulnerable groups, so no one is left behind.

There is an important opportunity for leapfrogging. But this requires resources. Post COVID-19, scaling innovations in learning will require funding partnerships among all stakeholders.

According to the African Education Fund Feasibility Study, US$40 billion is needed yearly to bridge the education financing gap by 2030.

The African Development Bank is a strong partner in Africa’s educational development.

As a direct response to COVID-19, the Bank’s Board approved up to US$10 billion to support socio-economic recovery efforts, education being a core target.

This funding builds on the Bank’s long-standing support to education and skills development in Africa with more than US$2 billion invested, benefiting over six million African young people since 2005.  

 In Rwanda, the Bank financed the US$12 million Regional Center of Excellence, which provides master’s degree programs in computer sciences, information and communications technology (ICT) in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University.

More than 70 students have graduated with skills in ICT, 30% of them women, and almost all are fully employed.

Such investments are now proving important to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and build resilience against future shocks by enhancing critical mass of ICT skills.

The Bank in conjunction with the African Union is developing a US$300 million African Education Fund to boost investments in Africa’s human capital, mainly in technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, as well as science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM), leveraging private sector capital to achieve impact at scale.

We are also placing a strong emphasis on domestic financing and complementarity within the global financing architecture, including GPE’s own co-financing and leveraging facilities.

This is one of the reasons GPE and the African Development Bank Group have been deepening relations, including with the Association for Development and Education in Africa (ADEA).

An evidence base to strengthen response, recovery and resilience

A robust targeting mechanism backed by analytical data on the impacts of COVID-19 on learning, especially on girls, is required to direct funding where it is most needed.  

COVID-19 has brought Africa into uncertain times, but Africa is a resilient continent. Africa’s young people see challenges all around them, yet consistently rise to transform them into opportunities.

We must commit to building better educational institutions and skills training infrastructure, beginning with the foundational levels in childhood, to provide young Africans with the tools and skills needed for the 21st century.

This will ensure that African economies have more robust, solid and diversified bases to mitigate against futures shocks, a base built on skilled human capital.

Development partners, the private sector and African governments must join forces to better strengthen Africa’s education sector to withstand current and future pandemics, and prepare Africans for the workforce of today and the future.


Read all the blogs in the "Financing our future" series

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