Burkina Faso, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, etc. all have literacy rates below 50%. In other words, over half of the population in these countries (people above the age 15), can neither read nor write. This is without a doubt the number one problem facing Africa today. Illiteracy and the lack of quality education is the main reason why Africa remains in poverty despite the abundance of both human and natural resources.
When people think about illiteracy in Africa, they often think about lack of school facilities. This is true in most cases. Most villages and small towns across the continent lack school facilities. Some children walk miles upon miles every morning before reaching school. They have to travel long distances to nearby towns each and every morning just to attend classes. Some of these children give up along the way and join their poor parents in the farm while those determined children who manage to get to their various schools, sometimes meet nothing but disappointments and failure.
Most prominent people in Africa today (including Africa’s king of the tracks and long distance runner Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia) can testify to this. Haile used to run several miles to and from school every single day. The conditions haven’t changed much across rural Ethiopia. Those who can run will run. The question is; what about those who cannot run? Many of the poor children give up on education and get caught up in the bubbles of illiteracy and ignorance. In most cases, this becomes a generational curse. Poor illiterate parents are less likely to send their children to school which means their children and grandchildren get caught up in this bubble too. Extending the hands of education to more rural towns and communities across the continent (especially in countries like Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso, etc.) can go a long way in helping break this cycle.
Another major problem facing quality education in Africa today isn’t the lack of school facilities. Rather, it is the lack of what it takes to run those facilities. Take Nigeria for example. In Nigeria today, the rich and those who can afford it, mostly send their children to private and international schools while the poor is often left with no other choice than to send their children to public schools. Public schools are generally cheaper and even free in most cases. However, the sad part is that, most of these schools lack good teachers and school supplies. Some classes are overcrowded. Some classrooms leak when it rains. Some children even take classes under trees. There are only few text books and some schools have none at all. Because it is “public”, nobody cares about these schools. Some teachers attend classes drunk and some even sexually molest their students. Ask some of these teachers and they will tell you they’ve not been paid their salaries for months. Others will tell you, they are just doing the community a favor because their salaries are nothing good to write home about. The government has completely failed not just the students but also the teachers in these public schools. Properly trained teachers and some sound government policies can go a long way here.
Another major problem facing education in Africa today is the lack of QUALITY education itself. Africa has so many graduates but very few quality graduates. Several people graduate from school with degrees upon degrees but with the lack of application. In other words, most students spend years in school but work very hard just to graduate. Most students graduate with certificates, diplomas and degrees but unable to apply what they’ve learnt to better their everyday lives. A friend I met in school knows almost everything about all past American presidents. Meanwhile, this friend of mine doesn’t even know when and how to water and nurse seedlings. We learn so many unnecessary things in school instead of focusing on the most important things in life. Instead of learning about American presidents, we could be learning about proper ways of growing crops and rearing animals.
Another major problem hampering quality education in Africa has more to do with our archaic culture and barbaric religious practices. Women are the backbone of healthy societies. Educated girls grow up to become educated mothers and educated mothers form the backbone of healthy homes. The sad thing however is that, in the case of Africa, some of our crazy cultural values and religious practices often portray girls as inferior to boys. Some parents send their male children to school while keeping their female children in the kitchen. At the end of the day, the young girls are forced into early marriages all in the name of poverty, religion and culture.