As Africa searches for alternative paths to educating its NextGen youth for the 21st Century, Jon Clifton, Managing Partner GALLUP World Poll, opened the 2018 Annual FEEEDS-GALLUP-Allafrica.com Africa Education Forum. The half day event November 29, entitled “New Approaches to Africa’s Education," is the fifth in a series of programs focused solely on key themes for Africa hosted by FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative CEO Ambassador Robin Sanders, Clifton of the prestigious GALLUP World Poll, and the well-respected online media platform Allafrica.com. This year's forum, attended by African ambassadors, education leaders, advocates and institutions, highlighted the “best practices,” of key secondary and tertiary Africa-created education institutions; featured a leading Africa incubation and technology hub, using these tools to educate, support STEM, small business, women and girls; and provided the audience with the range of U.S. Government programs under the State Department Africa Bureau and other U.S. agencies, which synergistically support efforts to address the skills gap in the region.
Five focal experts—Magali Rheault, regional research director, Africa GALLUP; Faith Abiodun, director of program recruitment, and partnership, African Leadership Academy, South Africa (ALA); Dr. Abdul Mahdi, dean of students and community affairs, Ashesi University, Ghana; Nichole Yembra, CFO of Lagos-based Venture Garden Group (VGG); and, Thomas Genton, director of public affairs, Bureau of African Affairs, State Department underscored key progress areas in the sector, shared results of the new approaches supported by data and student success stories, and framed what they viewed as the next phase needed for Africa education to permanently change direction. Mostly notably the experts said that providing “safe spaces “for growth and talent to thrive (especially for young women), along with “entrepreneurial thinking,” “problem-solving,” and “creativity” were the primary things needed to help African communities and African nations -- each focal speaker using their institutions' data or case studies as examples.
In her presentation, Magali Rheault said 2017-2018 GALLUP polling showed that Africa nations were not allocating sufficient budget funding to their respective education sectors to make a significant dent in changing the education systems. Her comments supported the event’s theme and desire to highlight why and what African institutions are being created and privately funded to step into this void. Thus, African government funding and the progress being made on education in Africa were mutually exclusive. Rheault went on to share with the esteemed audience three-related themes polled over 29 African countries regarding what people felt was more important to advancement or success in their country; the GALLUP research data showed they overwhelmingly believed that education was the most important thing, followed then by family or personal connections.
Faith Abiodun, the director of program recruitment and partnerships for ALA said during his impassioned opening remarks that student successes to date of ALA’s graduates, demonstrates that their new approach is on the right track. He noted that nearly all of ALA graduates go on to US Ivy Leagues universities or comparable schools elsewhere in the UK or other parts of Europe. In addition, many have taken their entrepreneurial mindset and responded to development, refugee, or food security issues in their home countries. Furthermore, “I saw the need to add on to what we do as ALA, by creating a Model African Union (AU) Conference,” Abiodun noted. “This conference allows for our students to problem-solve real-world issues facing the African Continent today as if they were AU member states.” Dr. Abdul Mahdi of Ashesi, emphasizing his institution’s experiential and practitioner approach to learning, touched on whether it was important to have Africa education associations like those that exist in the West. Mahdi explained that there are some nascent efforts in this area, but nothing that has caught on Continent-wide. He expected, however that in a decades’ time the region would see more viable education associations development as the current NextGen graduates move on into leadership positions with the desire to ensure Africa too builds strong education associations.
The role of the private sector was not left out in the quest for a new approach to Africa's education. Nichole Yembra VGG’s Chief Financial Officer provided a different vision on what education needs to include – technology training, more specifically-designed creative facilities for learning, programs for both women in STEM and those in small business, but also even more importantly a safe space in order to be able to collaborated, and teach. She highlighted the success of VGG’s "Vibranium Valley," and its recent event for solely for women in tech, by tech women called “Demo-Chella,” as name-take on technology and the famous annual California music festival called “Coachchella.” Yembra said that tech-focus women turned out in record numbers at the event because they felt both safe and encouraged. State Department’s Public Diplomacy and Affairs Director, Thomas Genton shared the role that it and other U.S. agencies, such as USAID, has played in both developing new Africa Education programs. He said that the “Young Africa Leaders Initiative,” better known as YALI, truly meets the definition of a “new approach,” having a network of over 3,700 members, who share their learning experiences, and are a community of future leaders. Denton added that YALI is only a part of the story as the U.S. also provides teacher training and cultural exchanges. He stressed, however, that there is a need to ensure that African youths are listened to, invested in, and are encouraged to be more confident about their future.
Jena Roscoe, Government Affairs Senior Vice President of Operation Hope, which for more than 25 years has assisted at-risk communities with financial literacy and financial inclusion, hailed the Forum as “one of a kind” in its effort to tell the good news story about what is happening in the Africa education arena. Roscoe especially noted the enlightening remarks by VGG’s Yembra of the importance of “safe spaces,” for young women and girls to thrive intellectually, creatively, especially in the tech and business sectors.
Her sentiments were echoed by Eurika Huggins of the Institute for International Education, who also noted that the event raised the awareness of what great schools like ALA and Ashesi were doing on NextGen education issues. Global Peace Services, Vice President Dr. Mindy Reiser, said the new research data from GALLUP, and the opportunities that Ashesi and ALA offer, should be of great interest to not only African countries but to policy makers in the U.S. "It would have been great if this conference could have been stretched into three whole days to allow agencies, higher institutions, and more companies in Africa and in the U.S. to buy into some of new approaches to Africa's education," Jones said.
The focal experts were given a FEEEDS-GALLUP 2018 Africa Education Advocate award at the end of the event. The FEEEDS-GALLUP-AllAfrica.com annual Africa Forum is a partnership pioneered by former senior U.S. government diplomat and ambassador to Nigeria, Congo and ECOWAS, Dr. Robin Renee Sanders, GALLUP Managing Partner Jon Clifton, and Allafrica.com Founder and CEO Reed Kramer.
Also see VOA About the Event: Esther Githui-Ewart interviews former U.S. Ambassador Robin R. Sanders on FEEEDS-GALLUP-Allafrica.com 2018 program