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Covid-19 has compounded the learning crisis in Africa by severely limiting access to education. By early April last year, more than 244 million learners across the continent, from pre-primary to tertiary level, had lost access to continued learning and teaching facilities.

In the next 15 years, 450 million young Africans will be looking to either find or create a job for themselves. Will they be able to build a career in one of the emerging sectors? Will they have the right skills and competences to meet the evolving demands of the labour market? The answer is yes — if we act now.

It is crucial that we invest in the future and allocate adequate funds to education today, enabling the necessary reforms. The EU intends to increase spending on education in partner countries covered by the International Partnerships portfolio to 10% from 7%. The AU encourages member states  to increase their budget allocations for education, and to improve overall domestic resource mobilisation. That is central to quality education systems and improving resilience to future shocks.  

Also required is innovation in the development, provision and delivery of education at all levels, taking advantage of digital learning. The Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) emphasises the need to harness ICT to improve the access, quality and management of education and training systems on the continent. There is no doubt that digital learning opportunities have immense potential to transform education and training through greater accessibility, affordability, and relevance. Furthermore, hybrid learning models and the application of modern technologies in other aspects of education is essential to guarantee the quality of learning, while reducing inefficiencies.

Partnerships will be another key to the solution, including those  with civil society, the private sector, and global education partners. As part of the new EU–Africa Strategy, the the EU aims to focus on education, skills, research and innovation in Africa. This means improving access to inclusive, equitable and quality education for all.

Partnerships will also be sought to develop innovative approaches to improve learning outcomes that can meet future demands, including emerging fields such as the digital sector and green and climate-friendly technologies. The EU will focus on supporting the availability and quality of teachers at all levels of education — Sub-Saharan Africa will need an estimated 17 million teachers by 2030 to achieve universal primary and secondary education.

The EU is committed to working with its member states to deliver maximum impact. In Mozambique, for example, it is preparing an initiative known as E-YOUTH to help better match competence-based vocational education and training with the needs of the market. The project will also empower girls and women by supporting them to study in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),  and by promoting coding.

Promoting innovations that safeguard gender-responsive education and education for refugees, people living with disabilities and special needs, and those living in underserved communities should also be prioritised to ensure these children are not disproportionately affected by the changes in education delivery. Adopting sustainable innovations in education delivery and management in Africa means improving education quality for all, so that everyone can reach their full potential.

Building Skills for the Future, an education event hosted by the AU, EU and Unicef on April 20 was a milestone in in our joint work on education. We fully agreed on the importance of quality, inclusive and equitable education for all, at all levels, and the critical importance of increased investment and partnerships in achieving that. We will focus on strengthening education systems at all levels, paying particular attention to protecting the gains that Africa has made in addressing the learning crisis, addressing inequalities in access to and the provision of learning, and to matching skills with jobs. We will seek to harness the potential of digital learning and to build digital competencies while bridging the digital divide.

Decisions on the future relationship of our two continents will be taken to the EU-AU summit, but this we can already say: education will be a top priority of our partnership, the foundation for a successful, prosperous and sustainable future for both our continents.

Urpilainen is EU commissioner for international partnerships; Anyang Agbor is AU commissioner for education, science, technology and innovation


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