Cooperation with China tackles challenges of education in Africa
On July 5 residents of Xangongo, a rural community in Angola’s southern province of Cunene, witnessed the start of construction on a primary school donated by Sinohydro, a Chinese hydropower engineering and construction company. Expected to be completed by the end of 2023, the school, named ‘‘Eko’’, will feature 12 classrooms and accommodate 840 students in two shifts. At the ceremony to mark the commencement of the construction, the country’s Minister of Energy and Water João Baptista Borges indicated the significant role the primary school, once completed, will play to enhance access to quality education and improve the living condition of the rural population.
As a basic human right, education, a linchpin of sustainable development, with the tendency to lift millions of people out of extreme poverty and level inequality, has faced decades-long challenges across countries on the African continent. An in-depth analysis shows that, prior to 1960, Africa experienced marginal access to school. However, access to education improved during the 1960s and 1970s when African modern education systems expanded steadily – this was possible because education was highly prioritized.
Unfortunately, the expansion of the modern education system was short-lived – Africa experienced stagnation and decline in the 1980s – this was as a result of a myriad of factors, notable among them is the drastic decrease in education financing. Faced with several daunting challenges including inadequate education financing, low and inequitable access to education, weak education system capacity, outdated curriculum, and weak links to the world of work, policymakers and relevant domestic and international partners have committed resources since 1990 to reverse this trend – notable among the international partners is China.
As a major contributor, China’s dedication to provide sustainable solutions to challenges in Africa’s education sector is phenomenal – between 2000 and 2020 the Asian giant aided the construction of more than 170 schools, trained over 160,000 professionals across various fields and created more than 4.5 million jobs in Africa – the trained professionals and Chinese-built schools, located in both urban and rural areas, have significantly improved the quality of education, contributing in tackling the lack of trained teachers and unequal access to education, which are major challenges in Africa.
At every level of education, cooperation with Beijing and Chinese enterprises has been crucial to efforts dedicated to tacklimg pressing challenges in Africa. For instance, to close the persistent teacher gap and lack of adequate professionals which for decades has impeded teaching and learning at all levels of education in Africa; cooperation with the Chinese government and enterprises has brought about significant gains. To highlight a few recent achievements, on July 5 a total of 65 Nigerian students were given a grand welcome upon their return to Nigeria after completing a scholarship program in China.
Sponsored by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) and facilitated by the Nigerian government and two Chinese universities, the scholarship program has produced highly skilled and educated professionals for Nigeria – among the recent 65 beneficiaries, 16 are postgraduates and 49 are undergraduate students with specializations in various disciplines including transport engineering and civil engineering – as part of their obligations to the country, the returnees are expected to contribute in scaling the capacities of Nigeria’s education sector, especially higher-educational institutions, to produce more highly skilled and educated professionals to foster development.
Similarly, in other African countries, China through scholarship programs provides unflinching support in training adequate professionals for the region’s education sector. In fact, China’s scholarship programs in Africa, aimed at fostering academic exchange and providing the continent with highly skilled and educated professionals in various sectors including the education sector, is second to none. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring report (2020), China is the single largest provider of university scholarships to students from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), awarding about 12,000 from a total of 30,000 bursaries that were distributed by the top 50 global donors.
Again, to tackle Africa’s skills gap, Beijing has not only provided sustained support for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) but also encourages Chinese companies, notably global ICT solution provider Huawei, to establish collaboration with universities and other higher-educational institutions in the region – the collaboration between Chinese companies and higher-educational institutions ensures regular updates of educational curriculum to meet industry demand and concurrently strengthens the link between academia and industry, which unlocks Africa’s development potential. For example, through the Huawei ICT Talent Ecosystem Program for SSA, which seeks to address the region’s critical shortage of skilled ICT professionals by partnering with UNESCO and African universities, the arrangement ensures that students graduate from African universities with employable skills to drive tech innovation and build robust and diversified economies.
Clearly, the colossal and consistent efforts from China, accompanied with remarkable outcomes highlighted extensively in this article, show that cooperation with the global powerhouse is central to concerted actions dedicated to address perennial challenges in Africa’s education sector. It is therefore imperative for policymakers and relevant stakeholders, including international organizations in the region, to establish and increase cooperation with Beijing and Chinese enterprises in a problem-solving process to scale up efforts to address the challenges of education in Africa.
Alexander Ayertey Odonkor is a global economist with keen interest in the social, environmental and economic landscape of both developing and developed countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and Europe.
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