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Quality education in Africa: EU launches €100 million Regional Teachers’ Initiative – will it work?

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Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA) – A class teacher shares a group hug with her class as she welcomes them for 2023. Africa will need 15 million new qualified teachers by 2030. But teachers are poorly paid and under-appreciated, the writer says.

By Edwin Naidu

Africa needs teachers – desperately. It has been estimated that by 2030, the Continent will need 15 million new qualified teachers. But as previously reported on in this column, teachers are poorly paid and under-appreciated.

Throw into the equation, the lack of respect given to them by pupils – sometimes parents and governments – theirs is a thankless task.

Governments on the Continent are cash-strapped, that is well documented, so too are reports of budgets being pilfered through corruption, across the Continent. So much for rewarding the people engaged to shape the minds of the future in Africa. There have been many stop-start efforts to ensure that the training of teachers is a priority in Africa.

The world has been galvanised by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 of Quality Education, since well-trained and motivated teachers are key to improving learning outcomes, transforming education systems, and ensuring progress towards the goal.

It is easy to become blasé when seeing the statistic that sub-Saharan Africa needs 15 million new qualified teachers by 2030. More alarming, is the fact that one in three teachers in the region’s current workforce does not meet the minimum required qualifications and training. Something must be done to put this right.

The European Union, a solid partner to the Continent on a variety of sectors, has partnered with the African Union to endorse the Regional Teachers’ Initiative, which aim to tackle the crucial shortage in competent teachers at the EU-AU Summit under the EU-Africa Global Gateway Investment Package.

The initiative is also a key element of the implementation of the Youth Action Plan for EU external action that aims to engage, empower and connect young people.

To give effect to this goal, the European Union recently launched a €100 million Regional Teachers’ Initiative. While one needs a magic wand to predict its impact, it is a welcome development, provided the EU works with the AU as partners to provide African solutions. But rather than put politicians in charge of this project, one would have hoped that they partnered with civil society bodies working in education to make a difference.

For some this is a thankless task, which is why the EU support would have address the challenges at a grassroots level instead of a top down approach, which we know often provides mixed results.

In South Africa’s Budget announced last month, over the medium-term the Department of Basic Education will continue to focus on providing high quality support materials for learners and teachers. Billions of rands will be thrown at this but as shown by the matric class of 2022 results, money does not translate into actual results.

Amid the praise for those top performers, nobody mentions the 300,000 destined for the unemployment lines. This is a clear sign that the teaching system is broke and in need of urgent solutions.

The recent launch by the Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen of a Regional Teachers’ Initiative in Africa and for Africa, with a €100 million investment from the EU budget to empower the world’s fastest growing youth population through quality education, is praiseworthy. The initiative will contribute to regional and national objectives by supporting and complementing national education and teacher reforms, offer opportunities for cross-country collaboration, partnerships, and peer learning in the region and with Europe.

Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said: “I am proud to launch today the Regional Teachers’ Initiative, a €100 million Global Gateway investment in quality education in Africa.”

Commissioner Urpilainen launched the Regional Teachers’ Initiative, a €100 million Global Gateway investment in quality education in Africa initiative in Pretoria, joined by the Minister of Basic Education from South Africa, Angie Motshekga, the African Union Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministers of Education from South Africa, Senegal and Botswana and representatives of EU Member States, UNESCO, teachers, and young activists.

The initiative aims to increase the number of qualified teachers by making teaching both an attractive job prospect for promising young professionals and a life-long learning experience. It puts an emphasis on teachers in basic education acquiring and transmitting digital and green skills – skills that will enable students in tomorrow’s world to plug into the opportunities of the digital transformation, and engage them in the preservation of our planet. The initiative will also cover teaching in crisis contexts.

The Regional Teachers’ Initiative is open to all countries in sub-Saharan Africa through continental, sub-regional and multi-country actions, and North African countries are able to participate in some activities.

The European Union and EU Member States – Belgium, Germany, Finland, and France – will work with the African Union and African countries, as well as UNESCO, to build up an inclusive, motivated and competent teacher workforce and harness the demographic dividend.

Well-trained and motivated teachers are key to improving learning outcomes, transforming education systems, and accelerating progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education.

The EU and its Member States in a Team Europe approach, are a key partner for quality education worldwide. Investments in education in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific will rise to more than €6 billion by 2027, focusing on quality teachers, 21st century life and work skills, inclusive and equitable education systems, opportunity driven vocational education and training, and higher education and mobility.

The EU has stringent checks and balances when dishing out vast sums of money, it expects copious amounts of reports to justify the spending. However, one hopes the process to shape teachers on the continent is not slowed down by bureaucracy.

Governments of Africa benefiting from this largesse should show results that matter instead of ticking the balance sheet box. That way we would know through the Continent’s human capital, its teachers, Africa is putting the money to good use.

Otherwise, the EU may as well turn its attention to the Ukraine ravaged by an unnecessary war affecting children and their education, or the mindless of Afghanistan, where women are almost relegated to slaves, not allowed an education. Africa had better make this count.

Edwin Naidu heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up involved in education in South Africa and the African Continent.

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.