On 4 – 6 October, the African Union (AU) , the Government of Senegal and partners across and beyond Africa hosted the 1st ever Innovating Education in Africa Expo. The purpose of this expo was to showcase technical and social innovations in every area of education and training in line with the goal of meeting continental targets for inclusive, quality and transformative education and training in the 21st century.
The Expo kicked off with an opening address from H.E Mahammed Dionne, the Prime Minister of Senegal and Sanga Dimitri, the Director of UNESCO’s multi-sectoral regional office in Dakar. He encouraged Africans to appropriate the right resources in order to cultivate innovation in Africa. A ministerial roundtable discussion on higher education, science and technology followed, which included a plethora of ministerial panellists. Hon Bagalatia Arone, the Minister of Basic Education in Botswana discussed the way forward in terms of education in Africa, highlighting the importance of Africans cultivating their own content for education and involving the youth in this.
Innovators from various African countries had an opportunity to showcase their innovations aimed at addressing challenges in Africa when it comes to education. One of the highlights of the entire Expo was the availability of workshops in order to engage on key matters, specifically on how education can be made accessible and can be used as a useful tool to build the economic landscape of Africa.
As an ambassador and activist for marginalized groups, with a focus on women of colour, I was particularly interested in a session by Dr Rita Bissoonauth, from the AU International Center for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa, under the theme “enhancing access for women and girls in education”. This is a pivotal matter within the landscape of education and one of the most critical socio economic issues Africa is facing. According to UNESCO, over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and one-third between the ages of 12 and 14 are out of school. Furthermore, according to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school.
Additional panels addressed the urgency of fostering gender sensitive practices in education, empowering women in post-conflict situations through technical and vocational education and training and promoting inclusive education of girls with the “mothers group model” that seeks to involve mothers in mentoring young women. These proposals shed light on a gender mainstreaming approach that includes women and customizes education to fit the needs of young women in a way that will close any gap in terms of accessibility of education and equal opportunity for women to explore careers and industries that, according to the model of patriarchy in many African societies, prevents women from working certain jobs.
Through engagement and sharing of different experiences and painting on a blank canvas the picture of what education looks like for a young African woman, there is a growing concern to address basic needs and human rights for women in Africa. Issues such as child marriages and sanitary health, prove that Africa is still struggling to give effect to basics for women in order for them to realise their educational aspirations.
Millions of young girls are missing school due to lack of sanitary pads. On the other hand, approximately 39% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18. All African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, whether they experience high child marriage prevalence, such as Niger (76%) or lower rates like Algeria (3%). During the engagement, it was suggested that because of such challenges, it often becomes difficult to focus on the actual content of education and the need to adopt innovative practices, to ensure equitable representation of women in every industry.
This expo also shed light on another marginalized group of women, who are within the deaf community. There have been ongoing reports of the violation of deaf women in African schools, which is a matter many states were not particularly aware of. These issues reflect an ongoing concern to effectively address the growing need for the realisation of basic needs and rights for women so that educational innovation can equitably cater for them in addressing issues such as industrial representation for women, gender mainstreaming, and effective mentorship.
Education and training remain key tools for human empowerment inclusive prosperity and progressive development. However, this powerful agency of education does not happen by chance. It has to be planned and strategized through adoption of innovation in education.
Current demographic trends in Africa have seen expansion of education systems without necessarily having the concurrent enhancement of productivity and efficiency particularly with regards to improved outcomes in quality and equity in learning opportunities.
The expo ended with Charles Ofori Antipem, a young Ghanaian innovator taking the coveted 1st place and $100,000 at the innovation prize giving ceremony for the most innovative solution in education in Africa through his company Dext Technology Limited.
Overall, this Expo proved to be a pivotal source of cultivating innovation in Africa, and a much needed platform for engagement amongst Africans, in order to cultivate original African ideas.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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