The buzzword in any blog, newspaper or media site discussing the future of Africa is ‘ Africa Rising’. It’s long been agreed that the economic development of the African continent is essential to bringing the population out of poverty and to transform whole nations. The talk is of course of inward investment in places like Nigeria and South Africa, where companies and countries invest in developing infrastructure in exchange for shares in mineral wealth and economic opportunities.
The reality is that sitting on a ton of oil or valuable minerals is never going to really transform ordinary African lives as we’ve seen repeatedly across the continent over the years. Of course if the wealth that came into the country was dispersed fairly into welfare and development projects then it might be possible, but we all know the reality of what actually happens.
So if there is limited development options, what’s the one area likely to transform the continent and ordinary people’s lives. It is of course education, the cornerstone of any successful and prosperous society. However in Africa there is probably an even more pressing focus – the education young girls. The figures compared to a developed society are pretty shocking, in Sub-Saharan Africa nearly 80% of rural girls do not complete even a primary level of schooling. An estimated 250 million children of primary age cannot read , write or do the very basic maths.
Education is the smartest investment any country can make in it’s long term future. Lots of surveys and studies and real case scenarios support this. Reports that show that the estimated economic gain in achieving universal primary education far exceed the increase in public spending required to achieve this makes a compelling argument. Just by going to school for one more year is likely to increase an individual’s earning by 10%. In the case of girls those figure can be higher, a young girl who completes a primary education is likely to see a 10% gain in earnings over their lifetimes.
The figures, and research all point in one way, if you increase the level of education that has a direct effect on both the individuals and crucially the GDP of their home country. With girls, the results are almost always even more impressive with child marriages, child mortality and maternal deaths all falling in response to higher education levels in women. The focus on educating girls, seems almost unfair but in many countries the opposite is happening, many African countries lose a fortune every year simply because they do no educate girls to the same level as boys.
There is no real reason why girls cannot be educated to the same level, some may point to cultural factors but in most cases it’s simply a way of sharing scare resources. There are limited chances for education and boys tend to be first in the line for those. The reality is that education needs to open to all, but the economic benefits are greater when you ensure a girl has a decent education. The infrastructure now is improving rapidly in Africa, particular with regards the internet and telecoms. This is where the opportunity lies for increasing education, with the right software, internet connection and a handful of computers – you can educate hundreds of people to a decent level.
You don’t need a huge number of teachers or educational resources, the internet and online education can reach many if it’s set up properly. In the past, you would need to buy the best proxy program to even access many educational resources but that’s no longer true. The resources required are negligible compared to the waste of human resources and the impact on people’s lives – education is the route for every African nation to a better standard of living for all it’s citizens, it really is that simple.
Joe Francis writes online for a variety of internet sites often with an African or Asian focus. He currently is helping set up a new IT site – http://iplayerusa.org/ which covers new technology available online for travellers and people working away from their home.