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Unlocking Africa's human potential

Time (GMT +01) 16:30 18:00
Dr Henry Kaluba, Chief Programme Officer, Education Department, Commonwealth Secretariat

Dr Patrick Wilmot, Management Council, The Africa Centre

  1. Henry Kaluba, who had previously taught in Africa and still worked in Africa on education (through the Commonwealth Secretariat), identified major problem areas in education which NEPAD would need to address:
    1. Access to schooling: It is estimated that an average of 15 to 19 per cent of children progress from primary to secondary school.
    2. Retention: Of the small group that get into the school system, a number drop out for economic or social reasons, or because of the examination system which in some cases has not been reviewed for many years.
    3. Literacy rates: The following UN table shows worrying illiteracy rates for women, in particular.

Estimated adult (15+) illiteracy rate (%), 2000







Burkina Faso






Cte dIvoire
























Sierra Leone









Source: United Nations Statistics Division

Exclusion: Some communities are left out of the education system because of their geographical location and there are no measures in place to take the education system to them. In some schools, girls who become pregnant are excluded. HIV/AIDS: This is a major problem facing sub-Saharan Africa, in particular. While some AIDS orphans have been absorbed into special programmes, a number of them are still out on the streets. There should be well thought out programmes as well as how best to reach these children, termed orphans today but who are Africas future leaders. Training: There are cases of school managers who have to function without prior training. Gender: According to statistics, over half of school-age girls in sub-Saharan Africa are not in school.

Brain drain: This relates not just to African professionals working in the West, but also to those working in other African countries. African leaders need to provide enabling conditions that will persuade people to return and work in their home countries. Although democracy has been restored in many African countries, many Africans living outside their home countries want to be assured of political stability.

  1. Africa needs intellectuals who will go beyond a position of an academic qualification to actually generate ideas, seek and find solutions to the problems confronting Africa. How this is done depends on whether prevailing conditions allow people to develop those capacities.
Quality of education: The primary school cycle for some countries is six years, for some others seven years and yet others eight years. Henry Kaluba stated that policy makers have rarely asked themselves why it should be a certain number of years and not another. For example, if some children are able to complete the cycle in half that period, acquiring the skills and knowledge required of them, and are able to demonstrate that they have acquired those skills, then why not opt for the provision of different channels for different abilities in schools. At the tertiary level, there has been no serious record keeping to determine whether enough human resources are being produced in a particular field to enable the continuation of a programme in that field.
  1. The need to diversify the education programme relates to the problem of access to school. A number of countries already have in place different arrangements, such as double shift teaching, staff centres, night school, and more recently allowing the participation of the private sector and NGOs. Kaluba stated that while there was nothing wrong in providing these diversified teaching arrangements, they are often done without a strategic plan.

    For example, a community may decide to build a school. But this may translate in total to possibly as many as 100 schools being built in different places by different communities, and all of whom would expect the government to staff their schools. This kind of development raises several problems. It is not certain how much contribution the people are going to make. Often, the schools are built outside the planned framework set by the government. Therefore, measures to diversify education or introduce innovations should be strategically carried out, and in effect contribute to widening access to education.

  1. Defence: There is need to examine the amount of money being spent on defence and whether a proportion of that would not be better used to support education development.

  2. Information and Communication Technology (ICT): With ICT, academic institutions and libraries in Africa can provide better services and a wider range of knowledge. Ministries of Education should provide a coherent policy framework to guide the implementation of ICT in education. For example, a school may recognise the need for computers and have a plan for their use, but that plan might not be comprehensive enough to include several other things that the computers could be used for. If countries are to benefit from ICT in education, there must be a policy framework that will guide the providers of these services as well as the development partners who are likely to provide the hardware, software and technical assistance.
  1. If Africa wants to develop, the long term strategy lies in prioritising the education of girls. This would in 50 years' time change the landscape of Africa.
  2. Development assistance in Africa should be used more constructively, especially in education. African leaders should draw up strategic plans and programmes of actions to sell to development partners. Unless that is done, a lot of development aid would be received without corresponding benefit seen to be got out of it.

  3. In the discussion that followed, a number of issues were raised:
  • Education is a key point of NEPAD. What Africa needs in relation to NEPAD is to develop concrete short and long term measures on a country basis.
  • Poor countries usually have low literacy rates. However, it cannot be said that a country has low literacy rates simply because it is poor. For example, Cuba is a poor country with high literacy rates, higher than many states in the United States of America which is the worlds richest country. Therefore, although many African countries are poor, with political will and organisational ability, high literacy rates can be achieved.

Maureen Ofili


A pre-requisite for the development of Africa's human resources is to improve producers' incomes, and access to education and healthcare. What steps need to be taken to achieve these outcomes?