Africa has declared the next 10 years as the Second Decade of Education and has launched an appeal to the international community for technical and financial assistance to see it attain its target of extending access to all children.
The Second Decade of Education (2006-2015) will be used to consolidate the achievements of the first decade that ended in 2005 and move the continent closer to attaining the international target of primary education for all by 2015.
African heads of state and government, who met in Sudan last month for the sixth ordinary session of the African Union (AU), expressed satisfaction with progress made during the first decade.
The leaders endorsed a plan of action for the second decade, which was developed by a team of ministers and pledged to devote sufficient resources for the implementation of the framework.
They acknowledged the existence of parallel initiatives in education on the continent such as Education for All, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), and called for better coordination between all these initiatives and the plan of action for the second decade.
The MDGs are an international initiative approved by Heads of State and Government, including those from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. The Summit set 2015 as the target for ensuring that all children, boys and girls, complete a full course of primary schooling.
Through NEPAD, Africa has collaborated with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to meet the education agenda of achieving the goal of education for all and promoting gender equality in access to education.
An AU initiative, NEPAD has specific goals regarding education. These include working with donors and other multilateral organisations to achieve the international development goal relating to universal primary education by 2015; contributing to improvements in curriculum development, quality improvements and access to new information and communication technologies; and expanding access to secondary education and improving its relevance to Africa's development.
African countries have made strides in improving the quality, relevance of and access to education during the First Decade of Education and are committed to the goal of attaining quality education for all by 2015.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, which has the highest literacy rate on the continent at almost 90 percent, said Africa should work towards boosting the status of its education system but warned against allowing advancement in that sector to undermine the continent's cultural norms.
President Mugabe noted that it was the wish of all African leaders to see standards in their societies uplifted through access to quality education.
Zimbabwe has continued to take a lead in strengthening educational standards. On 18 January, Zimbabwe's Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Dr Stan Mudenge, officially launched the upgrading of Masvingo State University to Great Zimbabwe National University and said it would be tailored to the culture and identity of the people of Zimbabwe.
"The curricular should reflect those elements that promote our culture, reinforce our dignity and self-confidence and underpin our national unity," Dr Mudenge said.
He said the reclamation of heritage in higher education should start by placing culture in the local contexts.
Dr Mudenge also urged the institution to ensure a 50-50 percent enrolment levels to avoid leaving women, who represent 52 percent of the population, from participating in the development process.
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said during the AU summit that education and culture must be regarded as an essential source in the struggle against poverty.
He noted that special attention should be paid to training human capital, and particularly women to ensure success in the integration of culture and education.
"In Mozambique, the link between education and culture is already a reality," he said, noting that both areas fall under one ministry.
He said interaction between education and culture had been strengthened in Mozambique, with emphasis being placed on "self-esteem, national awareness, pride and belonging to a specific reality".
"One cannot dissociate the cultural act from training in terms of acquiring knowledge for life," said Guebuza.
Calling for AU member states to implement appropriate linguistic policies, the Mozambican leader said it was important to continue prioritising African languages as a medium for knowledge and an instrument of socio-economic development.
He also called for the combination of "indigenous knowledge" with "technical and scientific knowledge".
Mozambique has experienced a boom in school enrolment during the First Decade of Education since the return to peace in 1992. The number of children in Mozambican schools has grown significantly during the past ten years, with school enrolment of girls at all levels of education doubling to 877,108 during that period.
Investment has been made in expanding the school network to remote areas, and in distributing text books free of charge to all primary school children, he said. Primary school enrolment fees had been abolished, and free snacks are distributed to pupils attending schools in poor areas.
Southern African countries are already on course to harmonising their education policies and training standards through the SADC Protocol on Education and Training signed in 2000.
Among others, the protocol seeks to establish regional centres of specialisation and excellence within SADC where research and education will be conducted.
The plan will also promote mobility of professionals within the SADC region and help in sharing the necessary educational resources. sardc.net