What is needed to get children an education in Africa?

A youth perspective from the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa

Youth Advocates meet with Alice Albright and Julia Gillard in GPE offices, Washington DC. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand

Vivian joined other youth advocates from around the globe to observe a GPE Board of Directors meeting in March 2017. Here she is during a conversation with GPE Board Chair, Julia Gillard, and CEO, Alice Albright

CREDIT: GPE/Carine Durand

I consider myself fortunate to be a representative of African youth and over the last few years I have spoken around the world to lend my voice to our causes.

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However, I had never spoken at the African Union! Not until a few days ago, when I was asked to speak at the ‘Gender is My Agenda’ campaign pre-AU Summit meeting, as a youth ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

My work with GPE started in early 2017 when I took part in a week-long event to develop a youth strategy for the partnership, together with three other young leaders.

I welcome this work as I believe that better representation of young people within organizations, institutions and at events will ultimately lead to better decisions for young people.

Engaging African young people starts with a good education

Decisions that can help to ‘Harness the Demographic Dividend’, which is the African Union’s theme this year, and the focus of the discussions at the AU Heads of State Summit.  At present 60% of Africa’s population is youth, and that percentage is growing, thus meaningful engagement of young people in decision making is the only way for Africa to grow.

Holistic investment in young people starts with investment in education. It is only with a safe, quality education for all girls and boys across Africa that the demographic dividend will be harnessed. The importance of investing in girls, and boys, education was at the center of my first ever intervention at the African Union.

My recommendations to African leaders

Vivian Onano with youth advocates at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa

Vivian Onano shares personal stories of child marriage with youth advocates at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Photo Credit: GPE/Victoria Egbetayo

The panel for the session “Gender is My Agenda” was organized by GPE, FAWE and ONE Africa. I was asked o share my thoughts on what can be done to enable young people to get an education in Africa, and this is what I said:

  • First and foremost, when we talk about education in Africa, especially for girls, we need to make sure we are talking about safe education. Boko Haram’s actions in northern Nigeria highlight the tragic reality that for far too many girls in the continent education is a matter of life or death. Whatever financial and political investments are made must focus on eliminating the fear and violence too often associated with going to school.
  • Governments need to move beyond the rhetoric to provide tangible investments in education. Specifically governments must prioritize education and invest 20% or more of their national government expenditure on education. It is only through urgent and significant increases in investment that all children will be able to access a safe and quality education, and that the demographic dividend will be harnessed.
  • We need governments to take concerted political actions to remove barriers to education, especially child marriage, which remains as high as 46% across West and Central Africa. Child marriage is forcing girls  to drop out of school. In some countries girls are not allowed back into school after they have had their child. This is not inclusive development and it is not the Africa that I want to have.
  • Quality is essential to effecting real change. The education that is provided must equip children and young people with the knowledge and skills needed to meet the demands of not just the local, but the global labor market.
  • No child chooses to be born into poverty. No child chooses not to be able to access safe education. We must all work together to make sure that no child is left behind.

As I get ready to leave behind my first experience at the African Union, the Heads of States are starting to arrive for their closed two-day Summit. I am thrilled our recommendations from the pre-summit event will be delivered to them. I hope that they hear my voice, and the voice of millions of other young people.

Invest more in education now. Increase your government expenditure on education to 20% or more. Pledge this commitment at the GPE replenishment summit in early 2018 and help create a continent, and world, where all children receive a safe, quality education.


Women & Girls Advocate South Africa
Vivian Onano is a women and girls’ advocate and youth leader who was born and raised in rural Kenya. Her arduous upbringing has forged her strong commitment to education, to women, and to leadership. Vivian...

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