Education policy makers, activists and millions of young people in Africa and Europe who still need access to quality and inclusive education have reason to keep an eye on the outcomes of a high-level meeting that took place last month in Abidjan. Côte d'Ivoire hosted the African and European Union heads of state and government Summit, the 5th of its kind, on November 29-30. Organized under the auspices of the Africa-Europe Cooperation, an arrangement through which both continents seek to work on common areas of interest, the summit featured very interesting proposals on education.
36 youth representing millions of young people
I was one of the youth fellows who attended the summit. In fact, I did not simply attend but also actively participated in the events leading to the summit. Under the theme “Investing in youth for accelerated growth and sustainable development”, the summit, for the first time, actively and meaningfully engaged youth to work out concrete proposals, under the AU-EU Youth Plug-In Initiative (AUEUYPII), to present to the leaders for consideration.
It was a competitive selection process for the 36 fellows to represent millions of youth on both continents. I was selected and worked under the Education cluster because of my work on access to education for the poor in Uganda especially vulnerable girls under the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund. It is the first scholarship scheme in Africa for survivors of gender-based violence and teenage mothers.
A dream and journey that started from experience
My passion and ambition to work on access to education is a personal story. Orphaned at 10 and raised in a poverty-stricken family with my grandmother, acquiring the basic necessities of life was difficult. I nearly dropped out of school but, by God’s grace, I met good-hearted persons who held my hand and supported me through school. I went on to became the first graduate in my village.
My journey made me understand that everyone needs a hand extended to them so they can realize their dreams. My dream was a joyful burden God put in my heart – joyful because the thought of transforming the lives of people was pleasant to the mind, yet a burden because I didn’t know how it would turn into a life-transforming reality.
In 2012, I sold my piece of land worth $1,500 and started the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund. Today, the Fund has supported 30 vulnerable and disadvantaged students in primary and secondary schools and at university. Being a youth fellow #AUEUYPII to work out things so that millions of young people can receive an education was such a noble assignment and a direct extension of what I’ve been doing in my country.
Proposals to AU and EU leaders to expand education
We looked at existing initiatives in Africa (Mwalimu Julius Nyerere African Union Scholarships) and Europe (Erasmus+) and thought such should be expanded and jointly strengthened to enhance access and education mobility on both continents through the “Nyerere-Erasmus Program” initiative.
We proposed a multipurpose and incentive-based pilot intercontinental program, the AU-EU Rural Education Action Program (REAP), to facilitate access to and the completion of primary and secondary education for children, particularly girls, considering the gender dynamics in access to education in remote and hard-to-reach areas.
REAP was complemented by a proposal to create a network of digital hubs for primary and secondary education that would be implemented through a public-private partnership with major ICT companies to promote digital skills and connectivity at the earliest stages of education.
We noted that education is not sufficient on its own, so asked for good governance and accountability processes from our governments if we are to realize good education systems.
Actions need to follow words
According to Brookings, 119 million European citizens, representing more than 23% of the population in 2015, were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Limited access to education, remoteness and rural isolation among others were blamed.
Sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand has the highest rates of education exclusion on the globe. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, according to UNESCO. If this is the situation in the 21st century, shouldn’t Africa and EU leaders act, and act fast on the proposals the youth presented?
Borrowing from the concept of Africa-Europe Cooperation, we suggested an AU-EU Youth Cooperation Lab to follow up the actual implementation of these proposals. We need to see these brilliant ideas actually transforming lives in communities.