UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s remarks at the Transforming Education in Africa event

NEW YORK, September 20, 2022 – “Excellencies,

“I am honored to join the African Union Commission, the European Commission, UNESCO and WFP in welcoming you to this important discussion. Thank you for your continued commitment to creating a better future for children and youth across Africa.

“Africa is a continent undergoing rapid demographic change, with children and youth leading the way. Today, three out of five people in Africa are under 25 years old. By the middle of this century, Africa will be home to a billion people. Children and young people make up 40 percent of the world. This change harbors both opportunities and challenges – especially in the area of ​​education.

“Over the past two decades, governments in Africa have made significant strides in getting more children into school. The proportion of primary school-age children not in school has been halved – from 35 per cent in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2019. More than the same, the percentage of secondary school-age children not in school is 63 in that period dropped to 53.

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“This commitment to expanding access to education is clearly reflected in the AU’s Agenda 2063 and 10-year Continental Education Strategy, which aim to strengthen education systems across the continent.

“UNICEF proudly supports this work. In 2021, nearly half (or 46 percent) of UNICEF program spending on education went to Africa.

“Unfortunately, the global learning crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, could undo much of the progress made in children’s education since 2000.

“Even before the pandemic, the continent was facing a severe learning crisis. Millions of children already lack basic reading skills and have been excluded from learning opportunities because of poverty, gender, conflict, displacement or disability.

“The pandemic has amplified these trends. For example, at the height of COVID-related school closures, more than 90 percent of students in Africa had their learning disrupted.

“As Africa is home to the world’s largest population of children and young people, now is the time to take action to transform education in Africa.

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“Your Excellencies, you have an essential role to play in reaching every child in Africa with quality education. Education has not been the annual theme of the AU for over a decade. I want you to put education at the heart of the African Union’s agenda by championing the 2023 theme.

“I also encourage you to take the lead in unleashing a continental movement to transform education in Africa. This transformation can be led and owned by African Member States, with the support of multi-stakeholder partnerships and youth engagement.

“Together we can bring all school-age children in Africa back to personal learning. This includes the millions who were not in school before the pandemic. We can also ensure that education systems are able to support children’s catch-up learning and basic services such as water, sanitation and mental health support. And we need teachers with refreshed skills on digital learning modalities, remedial action and socio-emotional learning equip.

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“Excellencies, we must address the learning crisis through increased investment in essential learning. If Africa’s children are equipped with solid numeracy and literacy skills, they will be better able to acquire higher knowledge and skills in the future.

“We should also allocate more funding to development and training so that young people can learn the full range of skills needed for the 21st century. We can use a variety of partnerships, including with the private sector, to bring innovative ideas and resources to the table.

“And most importantly, we must prioritize the education of girls. This includes ensuring that girls are safe in school and that they are supported in the subjects and careers they choose.

“We still have a long way to go. But through the commitments made here and at the Transforming Education Summit, we can close the investment gap in essential learning and restart progress in children’s education across the continent.

“Many Thanks.”


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