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Africa Can Tackle Its “Severe Learning Crisis,” Needs to Focus on Access and Quality

MD Staff

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Africa faces a “severe learning crisis” that undermines economic growth and the well-being of its citizens, according to a new World Bank study. The region has made considerable progress in boosting primary and lower secondary school enrollment, but some 50 million children remain out of school, and most of those who attend school are not acquiring the basic skills necessary for success later in life.

Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa argues that learning levels across the region are alarmingly low. Among second grade students assessed on numeracy tests in several Sub-Saharan African countries, three-quarters could not count beyond 80 and 40 percent could not do a one-digit addition problem. In reading, between 50 and 80 percent of children in second grade could not answer a single question based on a short passage they had read, and a large proportion could not read even a single word.

Progress in the region has been mixed and some countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, have universalized access to basic education (primary and lower secondary). Other countries, including Central African Republic, Liberia and Chad, which have been affected by conflict and political turmoil, are lagging behind even in primary school access. In most countries, however, despite rapid advances, richer children, urban children and boys have the highest access to lower secondary education.

Providing a high-quality basic education for children across the region is an economic necessity, as well as a moral imperative,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education. “This report provides a sobering look at Africa’s learning crisis and the region’s potential to solve it. Young Africans can transform the region and create lasting economic change, but they need to be equipped with the skills and human capital to do so.”

The study lays out concrete steps in four priority areas: providing universal basic education with a focus on equitable access, quality and retention; ensuring effective management and support of teachers; increasing financing for quality education; and boosting institutional capacity.

Specifically, the report urges countries to focus on student progression and the “traffic jam” in early grades, where children are stuck for many years with little learning, and are often taught in a language they don’t fully understand. Ensuring regular student attendance, reducing repetition and class size, and implementing a language of instruction policy are factors critical to ensuring foundational learning. The study also calls for the elimination of the high-stakes examinations between primary and lower secondary school to ensure student progression.

The study highlights the need for better teacher support, particularly around issues of recruitment, preparation, deployment, supervision, and support at the school level. Policies need to address high rates of absenteeism and lack of teacher knowledge and skill, with a focus on better and more effective teacher preparation programs, on-the-job support, and incentives.

According to the study, in 2014, African governments spent an estimated US$204 per student for primary education—less than half of the amount spent in South Asia, the region with the next lowest level of spending. But the authors caution that more spending needs to be complemented by smarter and more strategic spending on learning materials, infrastructure, and teacher training.

“Countries in Africa can address this learning crisis while also improving access and completion,” said Sajitha Bashir, World Bank Education Manager and co-author of the report along with Marlaine Lockheed, Elizabeth Ninan, and Jee-Peng Tan. “Our research draws on lessons from the region and for the region about what works. Countries need to design policies that fit their local context and educational needs, while building their capacity to implement dynamic programs that are open to improvement and feedback.”

The study complements the World Bank’s recent World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and argued that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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Africa

Sashaying to success: Fashionomics Africa helps designers embrace the digital age

MD Staff

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photo: AfDB

From a new digital marketplace to connect Africa’s creatives with global markets, to masterclasses to help designers share and learn, and webinars to inform and inspire: the African Development Bank’s flagship Fashionomics Africa(link is external) initiative has taken great strides this year.

The website and mobile app were unveiled at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali in November, to help Africa’s fashion designers, textile and accessories entrepreneurs grow their businesses, with a focus on women and young people.

“It is all really for connecting business to business, businesses to consumers and ensuring we are putting into place all we need to really transform the clothing and fashion industries in Africa,” Dr. Jennifer Blanke, the Bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said at the launch.

With secure e-commerce and online payment systems, the aim is to connect suppliers, buyers, manufacturers and distributors to consumers and investors – to increase access and grow markets within Africa and across the globe.

“The Fashionomics Africa digital marketplace will be a game-changer for Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs, to be able to reach regional and international markets and increase their revenues,” said Mahlet Teklemariam, Founder of Hub of Africa, an Ethiopia-based fashion platform that promotes African brands.

In February, Fashionomics Africa hosted a masterclass in Nairobi on how to establish successful fashion brands. Organized by the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department, more than a dozen fashion industry mentors shared their experiences and expertise with the aspiring entrepreneurs, the vast majority of them women.

“The Fashionomics Africa masterclass has all the right ingredients to add flavour to your fashion business,” said Linda Murithi, founder of Love Fashion Kenya, one of the designers who attended the Nairobi event.

The masterclass – which followed similar workshops held in Addis Ababa, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Kigali and Lagos – discussed business  acumen, access to finance, branding, marketing and networking and reflected on the challenges and opportunities African fashion entrepreneurs encounter.

“Some designers feel alone. Fashionomics Africa has created a platform where people share the same language,” said Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design, and one of the mentors at the masterclass. “They can connect, share experience and create a collaborative community.”

More recently, in a rapid response to the new social and economic environment created by the COVID-19 outbreak, Fashionomics Africa has launched a series of webinars to address the opportunities and threats posed by the pandemic to Africa’s fashion industry.

At the opening webinar in early June, fashion entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts and business insiders, exchanged ideas on the need for a digitally-enabled African fashion industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“African fashion is rising right now. African designers need to develop their unique business modeland have to be innovative. To do so, digital is key,” Sarah Diouf, founder of made-in-Africa online brand Tongoro, said at the webinar. “It’s a tool that we can truly leverage in our advantage.”

Be it the feel of the fabric, the fit of the design or the vibrancy of the pattern: the fashion business has traditionally thrived on personal attention and face-to-face contact. But the need to reimagine the role of technology as a lever for growth in the industry has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID crisis.

The containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus mean fashion entrepreneurs, like those in other industries, must look to online trading tools and or mobile money platforms to build resilience and prepare for the future. In this, the role of Fashionomics Africa is more vital than ever.

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Africa

Somalia: An American Media Pundit, Exaggerates and Weaponizes International Aid

Ahmed Said

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Recently, after the Somali parliament removed prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, in an overwhelmingly no-confidence vote, it didn’t only raise my eye borrows but it made me startled to read an opinion article on the matter in the Washington Examiner by Michael Rubin whose writings I usually find quite utopian and unbalanced. The piece titled, The State Department spent $1.5 billion on Somali democracy and built a dictatorship, was full of chunks of inconsistencies, bending the truth, and calumny attacks on the sovereignty of my home country, Somalia, in the disguise of having the right to express an opinion.

Before we delve into the essence of my observations of Mr. Rubin’s article, let me briefly explain why prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, was ousted by the parliament. However, to safe the reader a boring monologue on why and how the prime minister was sacked, I have to go to the point with brevity; the prime minister lost his job after indirectly sabotaging a one-man, one-vote election legislation he was a part of creating it, so that the Somali citizens can directly elect their leaders, a right they lost decades ago, whose opposite is to go back to electing parliament through clan based picks by traditional elders, then the parliament elects the speaker and the president, then the president nominates a prime minister to be confirmed by the parliament, a process tainted with corruption and vote buying, coupled with dangerous foreign interests; the prime minister preferred that old process, but to say the least, the prime minister was a competent figure who did a great job for the public while he was in office, and in his resignation speech, although he did not like how the no-confidence vote was conducted, he left with dignity and a unifying message. 

The trick to hoodwink readers Mr. Rubin used in the title of his article was to combine all aid received by Somalia from all sources, even from the United Nations, as a single one of 1.5 billion given by the US State Department alone, which is not the case, and he claimed it as an example for being implicitly one-time payment. Then, he wrote:

“Consider first the sheer scale of the United States’s investment in Somalia: The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars on Somalia in recent decades.” But in the title of his article, he  tied together the 1.5 billion and what he called building a dictatorship in Somalia in which the reader cannot escape the inference that the US built in Somalia a president Farmaajo dictatorship with 1.5-billion-dollar aid money, a downright lie to discredit Somalia’s resolve not to cave in foreign interference in its affairs, as contrarily evidenced by the weak Somali governments prior to president Mohamed Abdullahi Farrago’s administration. On the other hand, what is so surprising if not disgusting is that Mr. Rubin wrote the following as he cites a biased website that Somali leaders embezzled, a website apparently run by Somalia’s self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland to disseminate anti-Somali news and propaganda; he wrote incoherently as he inserts links, making it an issue, for instance, the international debt relief Somalia deserved so much because of its transparence and good governance, which the international donors praised:

“Under Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, aid to Somalia more than doubled. Over the last year, not only did USAID contribute near $500 million, but Yamamoto successfully advocated debt forgiveness that forced American taxpayers to write off $1 billion in Somali debt, much of which was embezzled by some of the same figures with whom the U.S. now partners. Yamamoto wanted to give Somalia even more.”

Finally, I would say that Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, despite his government’s term coming to an end, will nominate a new prime minister, and the new prime minister will be confirmed by the parliament. Somalia will not go back to the corrupted, old system of election. Somalia will succeed and hold a one-man, one-vote election. The sovereignty of Somalia is stronger under president Farmaajo leadership, and as Somalis, we will not let our sovereignty to be compromised by foreign actors. And, Mr. Rubin, I resect your opinion no matter how distorted it can be, but I don’t think the United States government, or the international donors agree with you!

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Developments in Russia’s Humanitarian Policy in Africa

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Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian politician, and journalist has been appointed the head of Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency promoting Russia’s humanitarian policy, following a decree signed by Vladimir Putin. Primakov is the successor to Eleanora Mitrofanova, who led the department since December 2017. Future changes in humanitarian policy embodied by Rossotrudnichestvo are thought to create a more favorable regime for Russia in the world arena along with more solidarity.

In order for that to be the case, Russia’s humanitarian policy needs a fundamental review. In recent years, trends that may serve as an impetus for necessary future changes have emerged. The first innovation concerns the functioning of organizations promoting Russia’s international policy and the assessment of their performance. The second determines their regional focus.

As for the revision of the functional features of Russian institutions of humanitarian policy, the necessity to work with NGOs on the ground and use digital technologies seems crucial. Firstly, clarification of the country’s priorities in the field of humanitarian policy could turn useful. Drawing attention to modern power diffusion from state actors to non-state ones, Russian institutions may concern themselves with Russian humanitarian projects’ effectiveness and motivate Russian donors and actors to be more focused on practical work “on the ground.” A shift from only international level cooperation to cooperation on supranational and subnational levels could ensure Russia’s influence and, as a result, a more favorable treatment.

The further issue is effectiveness. With specific humanitarian projects, this means that institutions could improve the situation of the population, communities, and households — only such an effect can and should be a criterion for the effectiveness of the humanitarian policy. Along with official channels, the implementation of this mission requires a more active involvement stemming from the non-governmental sector, namely the media community, and Russian business companies conducting foreign economic activity. It is a search for common ground, universal themes, and areas of interaction in which public opinion abroad (non-governmental organizations, communities) in the future could become a decision-making center for the development of joint dialogue and mutual understanding. In conditions of high uncertainty, digital technologies could have a positive effect on more efficient work.

When it comes to reorienting the regional foreign policy of humanitarian diplomacy institutions, the African continent appears as a priority. The humanitarian policy includes the promotion of humanitarian values. Historically, Russia defends such humanitarian values as peace preservation and justice. Considering the current power transition among states (and it’s moving from West to East and stronger cooperation North-South), Russia could be perceived in international affairs as a guarantor of peace. Consequently, the second apparent humanitarian policy shift is developing more adequate approaches in several areas and regions. The most relevant policy directions for Russia are the countries of the former USSR, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, and South America. The last two are considered to be resource centers as well as business hubs that if successfully overcame (concerning Africa) problems such as mass hunger and the spread of diseases, could become a field of activity for Russian companies’ interest, and contribute to the development of humanitarian initiatives. These humanitarian initiatives should not be taken as a thing-in-itself, initiatives just for existing initiatives, but rather as a useful tool, providing new employments, further education, and better life opportunities.

The change in the humanitarian agenda is visible on the example of topics within the SPIEF. The SPIEF is an annual Russian business event in the economic field, which has been held since 1997. The Forum’s key mission is to be a practical tool for business, allowing to overcome the barriers that divide Russia and other countries, both geographical and informational. If we look at the previous discussions’ development in relation to the humanitarian agenda, the movement toward the shifts has already begun. Further analysis covers humanitarian issues discussed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017-2019. The Forum has been attended by senior officials of international organizations, representatives from around 140 countries.

Since 2017, the Forum has been showing the need for interaction with NGOs. The topics of discussion of the Forum 2017 covered corporate social responsibility programs, the implementation of humanitarian initiatives, and the public sector’s cooperation with NGOs. The two messages leading the meeting were: any investment project needs a humanitarian component. The costs borne by the state will primarily lead to an improvement in other’s people lives, their health and safety.

The SPIEF-2018 was more focused on “work on the ground initiatives,” as well as with their performance evaluation. In this regard, coordination at the international level alongside the public sector’s active participation in overcoming the obstacles of the agricultural sector of countries is necessary. Going beyond the scope of symbolic activities, corporations make a significant contribution to the implementation of programs aimed at improving the social situation, the quality of life, the provision of humanitarian and medical care services, as well as combating epidemics. Moreover, the state and business’s interaction reduces the risks of natural disasters, but the market underestimates the effectiveness of investments in security. In this regard, state bodies should provide new conditions for beneficial cooperation with the entrepreneurs.

The SPIEF-2019 brought to the surface the digitalization and the level of women’s participation in solving global problems. The topic diversified more into humanitarian cooperation of the state and business on healthcare, culture, education, and digitalization. For the first time, the African continent became more active as representatives from some African countries attended SPIEF. The parties expressed the necessity to develop joint educational programs in education globalization and the labor market. Participants concluded that the digital economy provides women with more opportunities for self-realization. However, to popularize a successful woman’s image and create comfortable working conditions for women, there is still a lot of work to do.

The African direction from 2019 is becoming predominant. Hence why the regional movement of the Russian humanitarian mission is primarily aimed at the South. It is also worth highlighting the Russia-Africa dialogue. Over the past 20 years, African countries have improved cooperation significantly. The problems identified during the discussion are as follows: underdeveloped infrastructure in Africa’s transport, energy, and finance; the African economic overdependency on natural resources; and insufficient level of business interests in Africa. The participants concluded that it is necessary to stimulate cooperation and raise business awareness of the African and Russian markets’ possibilities.

The development of relations between Russia and Africa is officially recognized as a priority. The problem of mutually beneficial Russian-African cooperation is highly multifaceted, far-reaching and essential to ensure Russia’s interests in the international arena. The expansion of Russian presence now results from an increase in the supply of industrial and food products, development of investment cooperation, expanding Russian participation in the development of the economics of the African continent.

Russian-African relations have enough opportunities to play a prominent role in efforts to promote Russia’s humanitarian policy. Russian humanitarian policy needs a fundamental revision at the functional and regional levels. At the operational level, this is expressed in closer cooperation with NGOs and digital technologies to work more effectively on the ground. Through interaction with the regions, the importance of Africa has increased. For Russia, this is a promising area for promoting humanitarian values such as peace preservation and justice.

In this regard, Rossotrudnichestvo is perhaps the primary tool for implementing Russian humanitarian policy. Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) was established in 2008 and today operates in 80 countries. As for Africa, the Russian centers of science and culture (RCSC) are open in Egypt, Zambia, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Ethiopia; Agency representative works at the Russian Embassy in South Africa.

Thus, changes in Russia’s humanitarian policy abroad are expected with the appointment of the new head of Rossotrudnichestvo. Humanitarian policy needs to be revised both functionally and in interaction with the regions. Russia has historically promoted such values as peace preservation and justice. Based on the tendencies and intentions of Mr.Primakov, there is a potential for cooperation with local NGOs. After analyzing the discussions on the humanitarian topics of the SPIEF for 2017-2019, two more trends are emerging. In addition to working closely with the community, there is a need to use digital technologies. This will allow Russia to work not from organization to organization, but from organization to individual. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed Russian education towards cyberspace, which will allow more to receive it. These are precisely life, health, safety, the level of women’s participation in solving global problems that are the goals of humanitarian policy, Russia can and knows how to work on them. In connection with the strengthening of interaction in the Russia-Africa direction, this region is clearly coming to the fore for Russian work. It is the region, like no other, that needs peace preservation and justice. So why shouldn’t Russia satisfy the external demand having the resources to do so?

From our partner RIAC

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