Today marks the culmination of a week-long conference in Ouagadougou attended by 19 African presidents, including Ouattara of Ivory Coast, and Johnson of Nigeria, and various other dignitaries, held by the organisation ADEA (Association pour le Development de Education en Afrique / Development of Education in Africa), regarding restructuring the education and formation/training system in Africa.
Education is an important issue anywhere around the world, however, in Africa, this is very crucial as it is the crux of development and progression regarding all states across the continent. As this conference was held in Ouagadougou, I’ll take the example of Burkina Faso as primary.
Firstly, it costs between 20-60,000 CFA (Burkina Francs) per year to cover school fees, starting from as early as primary school. This is approximately, somewhere in the range of £35-80 pounds ($50 – $110), which, at first glance, is a deceptive amount as it is likely to lull you into a false sense of complacency and think that it is not a significant amount to pay. Well, it is, given that the GDP in Burkina Faso is $204. That means paying for school fees would equate to almost half the annual salary, that’s for a family with one child. Now if a family has 3 children, for example, you can only imagine what it would take to send all of these 3 children to school. Somewhere along the line, a child will be denied the right to fulfil their genius. Multiply this by the 16 million population of Burkina Faso – a relatively small country in comparison to other African states – and you’ll realise the number of people that are likely to be affected by this scenario. Now if you expand this across the entire continent, you quickly realise that the issue of education is mountain to climb.
There are a number of street children in Ouagadougou; you seem them at the crack of dawn. They are identified by the tin pots hanging from their soldiers. Their purpose is to go out and beg. They beg for money, using whatever means they can, so that they can survive. Children from as young as 8 years old, if they are not labouring, they are on the streets begging.
Often I speak to these street children, ideally, I would like to refer to them as another title but in reality this is all they’ve been allowed to be, the future that has been forced upon them. You can see the sparkle in their eyes, the questions, and the desire for answers, which goes unnoticed.
I was with two of my friends, heading to get some food for lunch. Two street children approached, begging for money, but with the wittiest banter. My friend had the very good idea of taking them with us to the restaurant, so along we went. As we walked to the restaurant, the staff told the kids to stop following us. We then replied saying that they were with us much to their surprise. The restaurant is very much, an upper class, bourgeoisie, establish, were on only foreigners, and those well off among the locals can afford to eat. The owner – it was good to see – is a local Burkinabe.
As we sat down to eat, I started speaking to the children, making some jokes and so on. I spoke more so to one in particular, young Amadou, told me he was 10 years old. I asked him what he would like to eat, and he looked at me unsure. So I opened the menu, and told him that he should choose from the list. At the moment, it struck me. It felt like a thousand hammers came tumbling down at the side my temple. Young Amadou was point at the words, but just mumbling incoherently, pretending as if he could read. Knowing that it was what people do, but knowing that he could not do it. He looked at me, as if in defeat, as if in acceptance that there was indeed something wrong with him, as if he was failure. The reality is he there is nothing wrong with him, he is not the failure, it is in fact society that had failed him. How can a child survive in a society, where he is not even given the basic essential survival skills? What future is there for a child who cannot read or write? A future other than begging and hard labour?
Think of how many children are never given the opportunity to fulfil their potential, never the chance to tap into and exercise their genius.
Education is essential for the development of African states. The problem with the revolution and independence is that there was not enough focus on establish a free education system, at least to a secondary level. Now what has happened is that of the states that offer free education to a primary level, there are too many students and not enough qualified teachers, like in Malawi, where in 2005, there was a ratio of 1: 60 teacher to students. With this kind of ratio, the quality of education given is severely diminished.
If Africa, and developing states across the world, is to develop and form independent and progressive societies, free education, at least to a primary level, preferably to secondary, with adequate qualified teachers, must be the standard across the board. Without this, the only outcome will be –as we have witnessed – stagnation.