Formal education must be of practical relevance

African countries are making progress towards universal primary education, the second Millennium Development Goal. As enrolment figures are going up, however, concern for the quality of education is growing.

Success often leads to new challenges. Sam Ongeri, Kenya’s minister of education, reports that the enrolment ratio for his countries’ primary schools has risen to an improbable 108 %. The reason is that, thanks to governmental efforts in the context of the MDGs, older children, who so far missed school, are now attending classes too. At the same time, it is becoming ever more evident to Ongeri that his country needs 66 000 more teachers on top of the 245 000 already in government service. Ongeri says that he wanted to use money from an economic stimulus package to temporarily hire more teachers, but trade-union resistance thwarted that approach.

When Ongeri shared this experience at a conference of African education ministers in Bonn in May, there were lots nods. Trade unions are raising demands in many countries. Rosalie Kama-Niamayoua, the minister for primary and secondary education in the Republic of Congo, said that her government had taken to pay teachers bonuses. Those who work in remote areas, for instance, are entitled to such payments. According to Kama-Niamayoua, various bonuses have helped to boost teachers’ motivation. She says it was impossible to simply increase salaries because the pay of government officers was frozen in the context of structural-adjustment policies.

Since enrolment figures have gone up, another concern is common in many African countries: Does what children learn in school really make a difference in their later lives? In Mozambique, for instance, the number of children in school has risen from 2 million to 5 million in ten years. To make school worthwhile the government has reformed the curriculum. Minister Andrade Martins reports that there is now more emphasis on vocational issues including agriculture, tourism or plumbing.

In the meantime, the government of Burkina Faso has been expanding nursery schools. Odile Bonkoungou, the country’ minister of basic education, reports that children who attended pre-primary programmes find it easier to cope with the demands made at school. Pre-primary education programmes, moreover, have served to reach out to illiterate mothers and teach them to read and write, Bonkoungou adds, which also contributes to childrens’ educational achievements.

In May, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development hosted the 32nd Session of the Steering Committee of ADEA, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa. The meeting launched preparations for the ADEA Triennale on Education and Training. The event will take place in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in December 2011. The topic will be what kinds of educating, training and qualifying are needed for sustainable development. (dem)

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