Africa and Quality Education (SDG 4).
As part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set to be achieved by 2030, some African governments are still struggling to provide quality education to their citizens. Indeed, a 2018 UN report indicated that sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of children not enrolled in school.
This article basically seeks to recommend basic measures some African governments can take to deal with the shortcomings within their education sector.
Policy initiatives for children with learning disabilities should be a top priority. To achieve this, African governments must use lesson-drawing techniques to adopt strategies used by other developed countries in dealing with learning disabilities.
For the sake of this article, I will use dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as examples, and will not go much into detail about their causes, treatments, etc.
Dyslexia makes reading, writing, and interpreting words seem like an arduous task to an individual who may have an average level of intelligence. Some noticeable symptoms of dyslexia are when students have trouble reading, writing, spelling, struggling to understand things they hear, and some have trouble expressing their emotions clearly.
Furthermore, ADHD is basically a medical neurobiological disorder. Symptoms of this disability are exhibited when a person consistently fidgets when seated, talks excessively, easily lose concentration, forgets daily routines, and when he/she does not follow directions or finish tasks.
Since some African parents and teachers have little knowledge of the symptoms of these learning disorders, children with such medical conditions are forced to quit school and pursue menial jobs, since they are considered dumb and a waste of school fees.
In extreme cases, these children are sent to spiritual healers to exorcise that so-called spirit that is responsible for that condition. However, African countries can benefit by learning from their foreign counterparts in dealing with these issues. Governments of advanced countries have institutions and educational assessment services that cater for students with dyslexia and ADHD.
Provisions are made within their mainstreamed classes and exams to accommodate such medical conditions. Subsequently, the progress of these students is monitored by a school-employed learning support specialist.
Since governments of advanced countries have made efforts in the past to deal with students with these disabilities, it is not surprising that famous people such as Albert Einstein made significant scientific contributions despite having dyslexia. He was a late learner and had difficulty memorising words in his childhood. However, the support systems in his environment catered for him and gave him the platform to reach his full potential.
Unfortunately, most Africans define disabilities by looking at anomalies in the person's physical appearance such as limb deformities, blindness, or certain disabilities that are visible on the face like autism.
If African governments can learn how other countries conduct evaluations to determine whether children meet the criteria for specific learning disabilities, the continent will make a progressive step towards minorities inclusion in education.
Another focus for African governments should be to invest in qualified teachers. Rigorous certification processes need to be put in place to ensure that the best candidates are chosen to teach students or authenticate existing teachers to ensure they are qualified to continue teaching.
An example of such a test was carried out for primary school teachers in Kaduna State in Nigeria. The primary teachers were given a basic competency test meant for 10-year-old students. Unfortunately, over 20,000 primary teachers failed the test. Similar tests need to be conducted across every educational level, especially at the primary level where children build a solid foundation for future studies.
Additionally, teachers should be remunerated fairly for their work instead of flattering them with unfounded famous statements like, "a teacher’s reward is in heaven". Professional counselling services for students is another area African governments need to prioritise.
Most Africans are quick to consult pastors and spiritual healers when they notice changes in their children’s behaviour. These things happen because guidance and counselling services are highly underrated in Africa.
There are many marriage counsellors and motivational speakers across the continent. But there are very few, effective counsellors who can address the needs of students and young people who need assistance.
Qualified student counsellors can help boys express themselves and debunk statements like 'men should not express emotions'; and also let the girls build confidence and strong attitudes to refute statements like ‘a woman's place is in the kitchen’.
Finally, African governments must focus on linking tertiary education to industry. Apart from university courses in the medical and legal field which have a predictable job outlook, courses in the humanities and social sciences leave students undecided.
It is imperative that African governments regularly update their curriculum to remove outdated courses and replace it with new ones that have viable job opportunities after school. The quest for quality education will be half-done without taking such crucial steps at the tertiary level.