Amb – Prof Bitange Ndemo: Educators for Africa’s Educational Renaissance

Amb Prof Bitange Ndemo Kenya April 13, 2024

By Amb – Prof Bitange Ndemo…

Last week, I participated in the Global High-Level Event on Education organized by the Belgian Government and the European Union (EU) as part of Belgium’s EU Presidency. The conference focused on Africa and covered several aspects of education, including teachers and the teaching profession, financing of education transformation, equity and inclusion in and through education, gearing up vocational education (VET) and higher education for the future, the green transition, greening education, and green skills, and the digital transition, digital education, and digital skills.

Each topic we covered is critical to Africa’s future, so it is very important to elaborate on each in separate articles for the next few weeks. My focus today will be on teachers and the teaching profession.

Teachers are the backbone of any educational system. They impart knowledge, skills, and values to students of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Teachers also play a vital role in shaping the future of society by influencing their students’ learning outcomes and aspirations. Indeed, one of the senior EU officials noted that “Changing the World starts in class.” Many of us remember the inspiration we got from our teachers.

Teaching is a noble and rewarding profession, but it has lost its nobility in Africa due to neglect and poor working conditions. Many African teachers are underpaid, overworked, undertrained, underequipped, and unsupported. They often face large class sizes, inadequate infrastructure, lack of materials, low motivation, and high attrition rates. Some teachers also must deal with conflict, violence, corruption, and political interference in their work. These factors affect the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning in African schools. Moreover, they undermine teachers’ status and dignity as professionals and agents of change.

Revelations from Scandinavian countries, especially, reveal that teaching is considered one of the best professions in the region. However, it is also one of the hardest to join due to its competitiveness. Teachers are well-respected, well-paid, well-trained, and well-supported by their peers, principals, and policymakers. They have autonomy and flexibility in their teaching methods and curriculum design, as well as opportunities for continuous professional development and career advancement. They also enjoy high trust and collaboration among themselves and other stakeholders in the education system.

In contrast, African teachers are often treated as low-skilled workers who must follow rigid and outdated curricula and pedagogies and have little say or influence in the decision-making processes that affect their work and their students’ learning. They are also subject to frequent evaluation and supervision, sometimes by unqualified or corrupt inspectors, and they face sanctions or penalties for poor performance or misconduct. These conditions create a sense of frustration, alienation, and demoralization among many African teachers, who feel that they are not valued or appreciated for their efforts and contributions. This, in turn, affects their motivation, commitment, retention, and ability to deliver quality education to their students.

Often, African governments do not consider education an investment. It is primarily seen as a cost among many in highly indebted countries. Yet the returns to an excellent educational system are immeasurable and long-lasting. Investing in education can lead to various benefits, such as economic growth and development, poverty reduction and social mobility, health and well-being, and peace and security.

Education can enhance a country’s human capital, productivity, innovation, and competitiveness. A more educated and skilled workforce can attract foreign investment, create new businesses, and generate more income and tax revenue. According to the World Bank, one year of additional schooling can increase a person’s earnings by 10% and a country’s GDP.

UNESCO emphasizes the importance of education in promoting social justice, reducing inequality, and improving living standards. By educating adults, 60 million people could escape poverty worldwide. Education also improves health, reduces maternal and child mortality, and fosters a culture of peace and tolerance. By addressing poverty, inequality, and exclusion, education can prevent conflict and violence, reducing the risk of war by 50%.

As one of the speakers noted, we must change the narrative around teachers and the teaching profession, recognizing and celebrating teachers’ positive impact on individuals, communities, and societies. Teachers are not only providers of knowledge and skills but also mentors, role models, and agents of change. They inspire and motivate learners to achieve their full potential, to develop critical thinking and creativity, and to become responsible and active citizens. Teachers also contribute to social cohesion and harmony by fostering diversity, inclusion, and respect among learners and peers. Teachers deserve appreciation and recognition for their dedication and professionalism, especially in times of crisis and challenge.

As Africa navigates its educational journey, it’s imperative to recognize the pivotal role of educators in shaping the continent’s future. By prioritizing the empowerment of teachers—providing them with adequate support, resources, and recognition—Africa can foster a transformative educational landscape. Investing in teachers not only enhances the quality of education but also fuels sustainable development, economic growth, and social progress. Through collaborative efforts to elevate the teaching profession and involve educators in decision-making, Africa can lay the foundation for an educational renaissance that empowers future generations.

Amb – Prof Bitange Ndemo is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium & EU | Professor of Entrepreneurship | Technocrat | Columnist.

 

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