18 September 2012

Liberia: Children Face Bleak Future

Photo: Glenna Gordon/UNESCO
An elementary school in Monrovia.

A new survey just released has painted a gloomy picture of primary school age children in Liberia and elsewhere on the continent, suggesting that half of primary school age children living here and the sub-Saharan region will reach adolescence unable to read, write, or perform basic numeracy tasks.

The report, the new Africa Learning Barometer, released by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution on Monday September 17, says Liberia and the continent as a whole face a twin crisis of access to education and quality of learning.

The report, which is the first region- wide survey of learning on the continent, with contributions from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former UK PM Gordon Brown, now Special Envoy for Global Education covers a total of 28 countries including Liberia.

It estimates that 61 million children of primary school age - one-in-every-two - will reach their adolescent years unable to read and write.

The findings also revealed that the number of out of school children in Africa - which already accounts for more than half of the global total of 61 million, will increase by more than 3 million by 2020. This, the researchers added, marks an unfortunate reversal in impressive enrolment gains on the back of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals declaration.

"The data from the Africa Learning Barometer illustrates the urgent need for the international community to make education a top priority for the future of Africa's growth, stability and prosperity" said Justin w. van Fleet, Brookings Fellow at the Center for Universal Education and a researcher behind the Barometer.

"Our projections show that 17 million children in Africa will never go to school and that one-third of the 97 million children in Africa will go to school but not learn the basic skills they need to succeed in life."

The Barometer is part of a wider collaboration with the Financial Times Ltd's This Is Africa magazine and comes at a critical time for the global education debate; with the international community beginning the process of defining a post-MDG development agenda.

This Is Africa has produced a special report bringing together leading figures in business, policy and development amid growing recognition amongst key stakeholders in education for the need to emphasize quality, as well as access, in order to build on the success of the MDGs. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who wrote the foreword to the report, welcomed the new research ahead of the launch of his Education First initiative on September 26th.

The business community is also taking a more active role in positioning itself as a key partner to governments, civil society and the development community in addressing the education challenges countries face.

Chief Executive of Pearson International John Fallon said: "Demographics apart, one of the most important factors driving economic growth is educational attainment. Yet the Africa Learning Barometer shows there is a crisis in learning which requires urgent action by the governments, NGOs and businesses who want to see a stable and growing Africa.

"Tackling Africa's learning crisis could help to lift many millions out of poverty across the continent just as surely as in China, India and Brazil."

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