Embrace practical education to tackle crises

As of 2023, nine of the 10 countries with the lowest literacy rates were African. [iStockphoto]

A paradox for many who completed secondary and tertiary education in not-so-recent times is what to do with what took most of their time in school in the name of knowing something about everything.

Are African education systems relevant to solving local problems or are they just for papers? One wonders why, for instance, architects have to be “imported” for Africa’s mega infrastructure, including roads, when local universities charge colossal amounts for one to study architecture.

Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands” implies that before one dies, one must apply what they once learned. Yet it is not all doom; Africa has notable brains that went through same education systems, and are creating life-saving solutions locally and abroad.

This week, Heads of State convened in Addis Ababa for the 37 Africa Union summit under the theme: Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa. This when Africa is bedeviled with intertwined problems including conflict, far-reaching consequences of environmental degradation, weakening currencies, hunger, and an unstable agriculture sector.

Some of these problems pose greatest risk of a humanitarian crisis. Climate change, too, remains a thorn in the neck, and despite efforts to get funds from the global North to address it, locally-led action, homegrown solutions, and policies to enable them work remain crucial. Here education is a cornerstone.

What, then, must Africa do to “Educate an African fit for the 21st Century” in the context of combating climate change? Africa must build resilient education systems that enable their subjects acquire knowledge, skills and mindsets that can promptly offer actionable solutions. The education systems must accommodate new knowledge and empower citizens to become agents of positive change.

It also means having at the helm of education institutions’ leadership a blend of traditional and current minds to exhaust skills and knowledge beyond traditional boundaries. It means creating room for innovative approaches that promote environmental literacy and practical skills in education curricula. Yet these cannot be achieved if literacy rates (percentage of people aged above 15 who can read and write) remain as they are.

As of 2023, nine of the 10 countries with the lowest literacy rates were African.

They are Niger at 19.1 per cent, Guinea at 30.47 per cent, South Sudan at 31.98 per cent, Mali at 33.07 per cent, the Central African Republic at 36.75 per cent, Burkina Faso at 37.75 per cent, Somalia at 37.8 per cent, Benin at 38.45 per cent, and Chad at 40.02 per cent. Afghanistan, at position 8, with a 38.17 per cent rate, was the only non-African country among the 10, according to data available online.

Africa must prioritise inclusive education initiatives to deal with the illiteracy threat among marginalised communities and those on the frontline of climate change, who prioritise survival above knowledge acquisition. This may involve providing scholarships, creating community learning centres, continuous education programmes, vocational training, and adult literacy initiatives among other tactics to empower individuals with the capacity to deal with emerging environmental and other challenges. This quality education must also cultivate critical thinking and creativity.

These education systems must ensure relevance and that education resonates with the experiences and challenges communities face. They must incorporate indigenous knowledge systems and encourage partnerships with local stakeholders and educational institutions for learning to be more meaningful and applicable.

African Heads of State must be intentional about finding a clear connection between education and practical action to deal with the day’s problems and prevent future ones.

-The writer advocates climate justice. @lynno16