Upon visiting the country last month, Malala Yousafzai was painfully correct in calling an education emergency in Nigeria. But we can and should go further. The situation is extreme in Nigeria, but truthfully, there is a global girls’ education emergency.
Right now, it screams in silence. We need to give voice to it before this injustice destroys a generation’s future and sets back progress and peace on many fronts for us all.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for progress on the global education crisis is that while everyone understands its importance, the absence of it isn’t seen on our newsfeeds or reported from live from the scene. It is a slow, relatively quiet, but extreme loss of opportunity.
As a campaigner, I’ve worked on killer diseases like HIV, malaria, pneumococcal disease, and rotavirus. While there is more to be done on these issues, their desperation is easier to convey to the public and politicians alike. Rubbish education systems don’t have a direct body count to compel urgent action.
But the facts should urge for a change: 130 million girls are out of school when they should be in, and half a billion women can’t read or write. Millions more are in school but learning either nothing or little of value, especially considering the realities of the future world of work — and the focus on STEM subjects, in particular.
If the facts don’t shout loud enough, the people and their stories do. One that recently shook me to the core was that of Amina, a 20-year-old woman in northern Nigeria. She is a mother of six who lost her husband to Boko Haram. The question that demands an answer from us all is, who will now educate Amina’s children? Will it be Amina, with the help of her government and an international system that recognises this emergency? Or will it be Boko Haram and their dystopic take on what education means?
The population of Nigeria, like that of the rest of Africa, will double over the next generation, having just doubled over the last generation. This youth boom demands investment or a generation that could be powering global economic growth may be lost to anger, frustration, and mass displacement — fuelling conflict, not progress.
If all that seems too much to bear, the good news is that there are mechanisms in search of funding today that can help get these kids an education. The Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait are ready to scale up, with further funding possible from the World Bank and newly proposed International Financing Facility for Education.
Like too many sectors in development, there’s an acronym soup of initiatives that need stronger alignment and greater accountability through clear, open, real-time data — but it is getting there.
Of course, the most important leadership comes from African governments themselves and their ability to prove that taxes paid within a country go to provide decent education for their citizens. Decent education for the next generation is at the heart of every nation’s basic social contract, and at that of the global community. That’s why it was exciting to see President Sall of Senegal and President Macron of France announce today that they will co-host the replenishment for the Global Partnership for Education in Dakar on February 8, 2018. When domestic leadership aligns with international support and focuses on outcomes for Amina and her kids, all our futures improve.
This won’t happen with well-intentioned wishful thinking, nor slightly more money for some small fry fund, or even yet another pilot project. To act on a scale proportionate to the need, education has to take centre stage with innovative solutions scaled and some risks taken. Education must be seen as the pre-eminent issue for the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals — for it is here that the battle for progress and peace for everyone on this planet will really take place. Please help sound the education emergency alarm.