Quality inclusive education must be guaranteed, and publicly funded, top African education unionists say

published 24 March 2023 updated 26 April 2023

At its latest meeting, the Education International Africa Regional Committee (EIARC) has taken stock of current and upcoming activities and challenges for educators and their unions in the region and called on member organisations to join the EI Go Public! Fund Education campaign.

Opening the meeting held from 20-22 March in Johannesburg, South Africa, EIARC Chairperson Christian Addai-Poku stressed that “it has been eight years since our governments adopted the global education goal, the sustainable development goal (SDG) 4, committing to ensure equitable inclusive quality education and lifelong-learning opportunities for all. In the framework of the African Union (AU)’s Development blueprint, Agenda 2063, AU Member States adopted the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 2016 -2025), committing to revitalise the teaching profession and deliver on the quality education for all promise.”

He, however, regretted that more than half-way to 2030, the deadline for achieving the global education goal, and two-years to that of CESA, many children, youth and adults in Africa remain excluded from education.

He recalled that UNESCO data shows that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion, as over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, while one-third of youth between the ages of 12 and 14 are excluded from education. Almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated education challenges on the African continent. This, coupled with conflict and climate change, has seriously impacted countries, education systems and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have wiped out two decades of education gains in Africa,” Addai-Poku also noted, adding that “there is no quality education without highly trained, qualified and motivated teachers and education support personnel. However, UNESCO data indicates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 67% of primary school teachers and 61% of secondary school teachers are trained to national standards.”

Regretting that the African region is often confronted with numerous violations of human and trade union rights, he also expressed the EIARC’s profound solidarity and support to colleagues in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe following the devastating impact of Cyclone Freddy in the region.

Stressing that poor salaries and working conditions continue to discourage young people from choosing teaching as a career and to force many experienced educators to leave the profession, he was also convinced that “the right to quality education for all in Africa cannot be achieved without adequate investment in education, teachers and infrastructure.”

That is why, he explained, African educators “welcome EI’s decision to launch the Go Public! Fund Education campaign and hope there will be resources for member organisations in the region to implement the campaign”.

Go Public! Fund Education campaign

In his address, EI General Secretary, David Edwards, gave more details on the EI campaign, highlighting that “this is our opportunity to take the lead, to place our profession at the vanguard of real change in our nations and our communities”.

He went on to deplore that “today, around the world, education financing is in crisis. Education systems in many countries have fewer resources than at any time in history. We know that a national budget is an expression of the priorities of the government reflected in how it allocates its resources.”

Our campaign demands accountability, he also said, noting that governments must invest in public education by both increasing the size of national budgets and increasing the share of finance going to education. Millions of new, professional and well-supported teachers are needed each year, he recalled.

He also said that financing quality education is a special challenge in Africa. And he recalled that, according to a United Nations Development Programme report, 24 of the 54 lower-income countries at high risk of debt distress are in Africa. Yet the International Monetary Fund continues to advise governments to cut or freeze public wages, meaning that teacher wages suffer and/or much needed teacher recruitment is blocked.

Need to accelerate progress towards the achievement of SDG4

Stressing that the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) calls on countries to ensure that by 2030, every student has access to a quality education, Edwards warned that “that goal is seriously off track. Halfway to the 2030 deadline, many children are still dropping out of school. Hundreds of millions of the most vulnerable children, young people, and adults remain excluded from education. Millions more are in school but not learning. Predictions are that by 2030, only six out of ten young people will be completing secondary education.”

He argued that global progress towards achievement of SDG4 requires comprehensive solutions – qualified teachers, classrooms, and teaching and learning resources, manageable class sizes and education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

Edwards went on to insist that “quality education requires quality teaching, for all students, in all circumstances, which means employing qualified teachers with the right standards and competencies”.

“I want to commend you for your leadership at the crucial intersection of so many interdependent issues. Together, we are building a movement. There is only one way to make inclusive quality education a universal human right and priority; there is only one way to get the public’s resources for the public good; there is only one way forward to create a sustainable world. That one way is to mobilize. United, we are stronger,” he concluded.

GPE: Improving domestic education financing and mobilising external resources

In her presentation on “Investing in education and teachers in Africa: The role of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), GPE Partnerships Team Manager Margarita Focas Licht said that her organisation aims to achieve quality education for every child and seeks to improve domestic education financing.

“In addition to distributing the $4 billion committed by donors to the GPE fund from 2021-25, GPE mobilises external resources to advance education goals and employs innovative financing mechanisms to leverage additional funding from partners. GPE’s work is underpinned by key aid effectiveness principles for resource use: external financing is aligned with country plans and systems, and donors work towards harmonization of interventions,” she also said.

The education union leaders also discussed progress towards the achievement of SDG 4 and CESA objectives in Africa, and EI Regional Director, Dennis Sinyolo, presented the activities undertaken and planned by the EI Africa office, tackling all four EI strategic directions – System, Status Democracy and Renewal.

He further laid out the EIRAF proposals for the post-2025 Education Strategy for Africa, calling on African governments to invest in education and teachers. Welcoming the African Union (AU) decision to designate 2024 the Year of Education, Sinyolo said EIRAF would carry out an assessment of progress towards the achievement of CESA objectives and submit its proposals for the post-2025 education strategy for Africa to the AU.

Report on women’s participation and leadership in education unions

The findings and recommendations of the EI Region Africa/African Women in Education Network (AWEN) Report on “Women’s participation and leadership in education unions: Investigating barriers and identifying solutions” were also presented at the Regional Committee meeting.

The findings of the research involving seventeen unions in five African countries highlight the different barriers (social factors, cultural and structural barriers in the trade unions, and those related to women's individual characteristics) that prevent women from actively participating in union activities and from assuming union leadership positions. The study also identifies possible solutions to these barriers.

EIARC resolutions

The EIARC members also adopted resolutions on:

They also prepared for the 10th EI Africa Regional Conference, to be held November 19th-24th 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa.