When people think of Africa, its peoples, and its culture, the last thing that comes to mind is education. Africa is praised for its culture, for its diversity, for its natural landscape, but never for its academic excellence. One common joke says that the best way to hide something from an African is to put it in a book. The question is, would a continent so damaged and broken be full of intelligent and educated people?In Africa, we have a tendency to keep looking to the past to validate ourselves. We look to the great kingdoms of Timbuktu, Carthage, Kush and the Great Zimbabwe, and we feel that we as Africans did something amazing and powerful before being tormented and destroyed by the evil settlers from Europe. But there has to be more than what happened in the past. There has to be something we can look to today to see advances that we are making as a continent, as a people. On a global level, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were developed by the United Nations. One of the goals was to have universal primary school education by 2015, and these have also formed the continental goals through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). So what are the success rates like? In Sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment has increased by 18% between 1998 and 2008. The pace isn’t fast enough to reach the required goal, but it’s still progress. The following is an extract from the MDG Monitor:
Countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda have abolished school fees, which has led to a surge in enrolment: in Ghana, for example, public school enrolment in the most deprived districts and nationwide soared from 4.2 million to 5.4 million between 2004 and 2005. In Kenya, enrolment of primary school children increased dramatically with 1.2 million extra children in school in 2003 alone; by 2004, the number had climbed to 7.2 million, of which 84 percent were of primary school age. Drawing on the experience of African countries that have eliminated school fees, UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID and a range of partners are helping to develop a “How To” guide for countries seeking a breakthrough in universal basic education by abolishing school fees to develop educational systems that are inclusive, equitable and sustainable.Africa is becoming a model in the advancement of education and learning for the world. It has a low base to start from, making progression harder than the more developed nations and continents, but despite the circumstances the progress it’s making from a low base is commendable. Regarding tertiary education, after independence, Africa had universities that were regional centers of excellence. In East Africa, Makerere University was one of the top educational forces on the continent. It boasts alumni such as Mwai Kibaki (Kenyan president), Julius Nyerere (former Tanzanian president), and Barack Obama Sr, the father of Barack Obama, the current president of the United States of America. In Southern Africa, the University of Fort Hare boasted alumni such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Joshua Nkomo (founder of ZAPU in Zimbabwe which later became part of Zanu-PF), and Barney Pityana, one of the founding members of the Black Consciousness Movement and Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa). One of the reasons why many of the once great African institutions didn’t continue in their greatness is that as financial endowments and opportunities arose, not many academics remained behind in these institutions to help them become the intellectual capital of their respective regions. Many went into business, government and social services to build their countries from the ground up, but this has left a gap for the next generation of leaders. Those that have the financial resources to, send their children to international universities, or some of the great universities in South Africa, but many don’t go back to further build their countries. To develop, Africa needs to develop its intellectual capacity (see Africa Needs a Carolingian Renaissance and a Reformation by Mugabe Ratshikuni) Africa is doing much more in terms of education, more than what can be mentioned in a brief article. It’s making steady progress in building its capacity. The biggest challenge would now be to keep its intellectual capacity. One of the fundamentals of economic theory is that there needs to be an incentive for research to occur, and research leads to development. Africa needs to educate the young, and provide incentives for the educated to remain within its boundaries and further advance the intellectual capacity through research and knowledge sharing.