From Universal Primary Education to Quality Education

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) officially comes to an end in 2015. This week world leaders are meeting to usher in a new set of goals for the global community – the Sustainable Development Goals. (SDG). From 8 MDGs to 17 SDGs, the new global initiative is supposed to finish the job that the MDGs started – aiming for zero goals.

Though Education was captured as a foundation in many of the MDGs, specifically the goal for education was to increase access to child Education.

6e0e251423Every child has the right to go to school, but millions are still being left behind.

Though there are disparities among countries, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has generally made considerable progress in universal child enrolment since 2000. The United Nations MDG Report of 2015 reveals that Africa Sub-Saharan Africa made the greatest progress in all regions..  The SSA achieved a primary school net enrollment of 80% in 2015 as against 60% in 2000. In 1990, primary school enrollment in SSA was 52%.

My take on this is that education at all levels should be for all irrespective of gender, social, geographical and economic conditions. Although the MDGs saw some improvement in access to education, the number of children that actually remained in school or gained access to the next level of education in Africa did not improve.

Despite great progress in access to primary education, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to register the lowest completion rate; 28 percent of countries for which data are available have a completion rate below 60 percent. (ECA, 2014). Many children that started basic education end up leaving school before they have acquired the basic skills including the ability to read and write. This phenomenon is more prevalent in rural areas. In Africa for instance, more than 40% of school-age children drop out before they finish their primary education (UNESCO, 2015). African countries did not perform so well in equitable access to education. Though access to education for girls generally improved, in 60 percent of the 45 countries for which data were available, boys surpassed girls in terms of the completion rate in primary education (UNSD, 2013).

E_SDGEducation under the new SDG – Inclusive and Equitable Education

Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals sets target for quality education by 2030. The target is to Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.


Goal 4 sets out 10 measurable key targets:

1   Equitable and relevant primary and secondary education

2   Access to early childhood pre-primary education for boys and girls

3   Access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

4   Increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills including technical and vocational skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

5   Eliminate disparities in gender, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

6   Ensure that all youth and substantial portion of adults (men and women) achieve literacy and numeracy.

7   Knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development including, among others:

  • education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles,
  • human rights
  • gender equality
  • promotion of culture of peace and non-violence
  • global citizenship
  • appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

8   Provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environment for all by upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive

9  Increase the number of scholarships available for enrolment in higher education including technical, engineering and scientific programmes

10   Increase the number of qualified teachers including through international cooperation for teacher education.



On the road to Sustainable Education – What is Africa to do?

The SDG Goal 4 is perhaps the most elaborate and achievable sets of targets the world has ever seen. The achievements of these targets would indeed form a solid bedrock for the achievements of many of the other Goals of the SDGs. To achieve these however, Africa leaders must have to align policies to current realities as well as future goals. Here are some suggestions:


  1. Align with the Africa 2063 Agenda 

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It is my hope that in the new-found euphoria surrounding the SDGs, Africa does not lose the momentum and aspirations of the ‘Africa We Want’ agenda as captured in the Africa 2063 Agenda.  Africans have been called to Action in the Agenda 2063 to:


“Catalyse education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovations and for the African century”

Goal 4 of the SDG should represent for us the Moon. We should see Agenda 2063 as the Sun that we aspire to reach. That is where the focus should be. In aiming for the sun, we may indeed reach the moon.


  1. Fix the Triple Helix

Improving access to and quality of education is meaningless unless they are genetically linked to Government (Policy) and the Private Sector

African leaders must find the missing links that tie these three together. It is only through these linkages that sustainable education will be achieved. Education that is inclusive, quality and relevant.

  1. Education policy that supports the pursuance of applied sciences
  2. Research output must feed into policy.
  3. Industry and Research institutions must be encouraged to work more closely together
  4. Greater role for the private sector in the commercialisation of research output
  1. Promote Intra-African Collaboration in Education and Research

[cv_button text=”If you want to go quickly go alone. if you want to go far, go together” url=”” size=”medium” style=”glassy” color=”content” custom_color=”” icon_position=”none” icon=”mail-1″]It is time African academic and research institutions seek to collaborate more among themselves. There are already platforms for such collaboration including the Pan African University, The African Virtual University. These platforms should be strengthened and replicated to encourage African research institutions to collaborate and share research outputs.


  1. Embrace Distance and eLearning in Adult Education

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Yes. You may have heard of Distance and eLearning and the opportunities these bring to adult and life long learning in Africa. Yes, there are still technological challenges in Africa in terms of infrastructure. The good news is that there are readily available basic technologies in Africa that can already be used to learn. Distance Learning makes it possible for learners to learn irrespective of geographical location. And yes the oldest and largest distance learning university in the world is in Africa. Yes UNISA.  One can also cite the Association of African Distance Learning Centers (AADLC), the African Virtual University and the eInstitute of the African Development Bank. Perhaps the biggest platform for knowledge exchange and advancement of distance and eLearning in Africa is the annual eLearning Africa Conference.


  1. Promote Sustainable Education for Development Agenda

“The World we all share is given to us in trust. Every choice we make regarding the earth, air, and water around us should be made with the objective of preserving it for all generations to come.” August A. Bush III

No I am not talking about education for sustainable development. I am talking about Sustainable Education design. The two are different. The former is about tools that help us learn about sustainable development. The latter is about educational design that is based on the principle of sustainability.

There is an emerging research initiative which has every potential for benchmarking and replication in Africa. Sustainable Education Design (SED) research initiative aims to combine the latest knowledge of education, learning and teacher training with the dynamic approach of strong sustainability, collaborative consumption and access economy. The more specific goal is to provide a SED solution that integrates:

  • Schools, where the most important attributes are usability, movability, sustainability
  • Teachers and training, which includes high-quality teacher education, consultation, continuing education and life-long learning
  • Technology, which provides sustainable independent energy solutions (solar) and tech solutions produced with partner network in order to provide local solutions for energy production in connection with the modular school.

The SED-project aims at developing an aligned national, pedagogical model for designing such physical and virtual learning environments in contexts of blended learning that elicit in-depth learning through activating and inquiry- based collaborative methods.


  1. Encourage Creativity and Innovation in Curriculum

Creativity is thinking up New Things. Innovation is Doing New Things. Theodore Levitt

I am all for academic, analytical linear thinking in our educational systems in Africa. But I am also of the view that we must integrate creative thinking into our educational curriculum even at the pre-primary stage.  The ability to think laterally is extremely important not only for the development of individuals, but also for the collective mindset and development of the continent. Creative thinking spurs idea generation. Idea generation brings out our individual inventive capabilities. And innovation? It just ices the cream of our thinking efforts.

  1. Teach our students the African Culture for Context


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Sustainability is as much about inclusion as it is about culture. Culture not only serves as a navigational tool for a given society but also provides a context for learning. Not only should school curricula be designed within the context of the African culture(s) but also the African cultural values, attitudes and behaviours should at least be recognized in the development and delivery of learning. This is, afterall, one of the aspirations of the African We Want (Agenda 2063). The earlier we start learning these, the better:

“Aspiration # 5: An Africa with a Strong Cultural Identity, Values and Ethics


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