17 September 2012

Africa: Nothing Is Impossible

Photo: Joseph Kanyi
Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates of Moi Nyeri Complex School fill papers during examination rehearsals

opinion

"Over 10 million school-aged children are not attending primary school in Nigeria- and this number has increased over the past three years."

The last decade has markedAfrica's highest level of growth in history. Businesses have experienced increasing returns on their investments, proving that investing inAfricatoday can yield high returns compared to most regions around the world.

Although foreign investment is still low, a collective decision by Africans to take advantage of this opportunity can stimulate the push required to bring the region into the forefront of the global economy. We have the knowledge, skills, know-how and capital to build a new future forAfricaand by investing in our people, we can make large strides towards eradicating poverty and closing the development gap.

Creating a business climate that will attract investment also requires the creation of an environment where human capital can flourish. Businesses need people who are empowered, well-educated and can think critically in an environment that is stable, peaceful and values diversity. The continent needs healthy, curious children and youth who have the stimulation, education and training needed, starting at an early age, to become change agents and entrepreneurs capable of driving economic and social growth. For these reasons, I am a founding member of the Global Business Coalition for Education, which is focused on enabling businesses to support efforts to achieve education for all.

I first became interested in a career in business when I was still in primary school. I remember buying cartons of sugar and selling them to make a small profit. Even at that age, people told me I had a flair for business - but without the literacy, maths and interpersonal skills I learned in school, I would not have been able to tap into this talent. It is therefore sad to see so many young children in my country, Nigeria, who are not able to gain these basic skills at an early age.

The current statistics paint a gloomy picture. Over 10 million school-aged children are not attending primary school in Nigeria- and this number has increased over the past three years. The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is approaching 20 percent of the world's total and makes up over one-third of the 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who receive no education whatsoever. In Africa as a whole, another 21.6 million children are out of lower-secondary school.

While getting every child into school is vitally important, the quality of education they receive must also be addressed. In Nigeria, for example, we see children pass through school without learning the basic skills expected from primary level education. I recently read a study conducted in two states in northern Nigeria last year indicating that nearly 70 percent of Primary 3 students could not read a single word of simple text. This is yet another reminder that the potential of our country and region is in jeopardy if we fail to have every child in school and learning.

My company, Dangote Group, continues to address issues on education through our corporate social responsibility efforts and the Dangote Foundation. Dangote Academy, for example, has two programmes for vocational and management training. The vocational programme provides a one-year scholarship for technical and vocational skills training for students from polytechnics around Nigeria.

This year, we absorbed 87 percent of the students into our existing operations. But we know more needs to be done - singular efforts cannot change the trajectory of a nation, let alone a continent. Our governments need to make education and learning a priority. Educational budgets must exceed their current numbers. Civil society must continue to hold government accountable and as the private sector continues to drive growth, businesses need to support these efforts strongly. With the Global Business Coalition for Education, I am committed to bringing more national and global businesses together to support efforts to expand educational opportunities across Nigeria.

Without a global push to achieve universal education by 2015, supported by the Secretary-General and his newly-appointed Special Envoy, Gordon Brown, we will remain a continent that will fail to unlock our potential and instead continue to be bound to conflict, poverty and limited development. Repeating the growth of the previous decade will be impossible without ambitious investments in the people of Africa. Quality education is the right of every child and the obligation of every country. Businesses cannot be bystanders - we must do our part to be active, collaborative, and supportive participants.

On my desk I have a mounted quote that says, "Nothing is impossible". That is how I feel about the future of the African continent. Nothing is impossible if we make sure every child - and adult - has the opportunity to unleash their potential through an inclusive, high-quality education that prepares each individual to succeed and propelAfricainto the league of global economic champions.

Aliko Dangote is President and CEO of the Dangote Group

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