June 21, 2024

Nurturing Education for Africa

Juliet Hinga

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Education is the cornerstone of development and prosperity for any nation. In Africa, where over 50% of the population is under the age of 25, ensuring that every child has access to quality education is not just a moral imperative but a strategic necessity. The continent stands at a crossroads, with the potential to harness the energy, creativity, and talents of its youth to drive sustainable development.

This year’s theme for the Day of the African Child is Education for all children in Africa: the time is now, emphasized the urgency of addressing the challenges that hinder access to quality access to education across the continent.

Despite significant progress over the past few decades, millions of children in Africa are still out of school. According to UNESCO, approximately 32 million primary-aged children and 28 million adolescents on the continent are not receiving formal education. The barriers to education access in Africa are multifaceted with UNESCO cites factors such as poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and inadequate infrastructure being the major contributors to these alarming numbers.

Poverty remains a pervasive issue, preventing many families from affording even the most basic school expenses such as uniforms and books. For children in these circumstances, the choice often comes down to supporting their families financially or pursuing an education that seems increasingly out of reach.

Gender inequality compounds these challenges, particularly affecting girls whose education is frequently sidelined by cultural norms favoring boys’ schooling. Early marriages, teenage pregnancies, and societal expectations limit girls’ access to education, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.

Conflict and instability present another formidable barrier to education across Africa. Regions like the Sahel, Horn of Africa, and Great Lakes are plagued by ongoing conflicts that disrupt entire communities and displace millions, including children who lose access to schooling amidst chaos and displacement. The toll on education infrastructure is devastating, with schools damaged or repurposed as shelters, further exacerbating the educational crisis.

Infrastructure deficiencies also further cripple educational opportunities with many African public schools lacking basic amenities such as clean water, sanitation facilities, and reliable electricity. Inadequate classrooms and a severe shortage of qualified teachers contribute to overcrowded conditions and diminish the quality of education provided.

Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from governments, international organizations, and local communities alike. Sustainable solutions must prioritize investment in education infrastructure, teacher training, and policies that promote gender equality and inclusivity. Initiatives to provide financial support to disadvantaged families, especially in rural and conflict-affected areas, can help alleviate the economic burden of schooling and keep children in classrooms.

Closer to home, in Kenya, organization such as Food for Education, which aims to alleviate child hunger by providing high-quality, nutritious meals to school-going children are in the front line advocating for inclusive education opportunities for all. Serving 1.5 million meals per week to 300,000 children, Food for Education plays a crucial role in keeping children in school.

Food for Education, founded by Wawira Njiru, addresses one of the fundamental barriers to education – hunger which is brought about by poverty. Many children in Africa go to school on an empty stomach, which significantly impairs their ability to concentrate and learn. By providing nutritious meals, Food for Education ensures that children are well-fed and ready to learn.

The organization operates a sustainable model where meals are prepared using locally sourced ingredients, ensuring not only the health of the children but also supporting local farmers and economies. Each meal costs about 15 Kenyan shillings (approximately 0.15 USD), making it an affordable and impactful solution.

Wawira Njiru, speaking to participants of the Global CEO Programme, from Strathmore University Business School, emphasized the importance of nutrition in education: “A hungry child cannot learn. By providing meals, we are not just feeding bodies but also minds, giving children the energy and focus they need to succeed in their studies.”

Wanjiru further highlighted the organizations policy advocacy and their partnership with county and national governments in Kenya to promote inclusive access to education for all children in Kenya.

Beyond just providing meals, Food for Education also engages in educational programs that teach children about nutrition and healthy eating habits, ensuring a holistic approach to their development and well-being. The impact of this program is evident in the improved attendance rates, better academic performance, and overall well-being of the children served.

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