Quality and accessibility of education across Africa were the main topics of discussion at the first-ever US-African Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. this week.
The perceived value of education differs across the 31 African nations which Gallup surveyed in 2013. For example, 73% of those surveyed in Botswana believed that education was important. On the Ivory Coast, just 13% put value on education.
Demographic differences, such as gender or age, did not make a difference in priorities, but there were other factors that may have influenced differences between countries. If a country is stable politically and is functioning with democratic systems, like Botswana and Ghana, residents tend to prioritize education. In countries like Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, residents are likely to choose personal connections as a factor for living a successful life.
Former British colonies and countries that predominantly speak English seem to believe that education is the most important factor for success. All nine countries who chose education as a priority were English-speaking. All seven countries that chose personal connection as most important were predominantly French-speaking countries or former French or Belgian colonies. In the English-speaking countries 51% of residents chose education, in French-speaking countries 28% chose education as most important to success.
English-speaking countries have developed faster. They have also attracted more foreign direct investment. These countries, because of the interest from foreign firms are receiving an incentive to build a stable business community. This lessens, therefore, the need for interpersonal connections to create these transactions.
The idea that education is what will raise the level of the skills and capacities that reside in people and that are put to productive use and support the economic growth of a country is one of the factors that influences schools' potential. So, the accessibility and the level of quality schools can make a difference, especially as these relate to meeting the counties' labor market needs, which is a basic concern across Africa.
The differences in the way education is viewed in Africa could make it difficult to keep children in school. Often, the family is better off if the child is at home helping with farm work or doing chores.
The idea that it is who you know, not what you know, also can make education seem expensive and pointless. This means that many children will not develop the skills necessary to envision and work toward a more successful future.
There are organizations in place which have as their goal overcoming some of the challenges education faces on the continent of Africa. The Connect to Learn organization has created a scholarship program to assist girls in their pursuit of learning and has placed 44 girls in the Millennium Village of Mayange, and not one has dropped out since January, 2012.
The 745 young women who have been enrolled by the program across Africa have a retention rate of 96.2%, according to Jeanna Rubinstein and Thomas Prior writing for MSNBC.
In an article by Margaret Wahito for Capital Digital Media, 42% of Kenyans plan to start their own businesses within a year. The biggest barrier to their plans is getting credit and the proper training. The US-Africa Leaders Summit has as an objective expanding trade and investment with Africa. More investment in education will shore up the training opportunities on the continent.
In a symposium led by First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush, during the US-Africa Leaders Summit, Pamela Kirkland, writing for The Washington Post, says the conversation centered on the gender inequality that pervades African education.
During the hour-long conversation, Mrs. Obama urged leaders from African nations to empower women and girls by improving their access to education. "Until we value women and girls, we won't tackle those other problems," she said. "Until we prioritize our girls and understand that they are as important and their education is as important as the education of our sons, then we will have lots of work to do."