Unesco last week convened its 39th Education Conference to partly discuss the quality, relevance, opportunities and challenges that face education globally. This conference runs up to November 14.
Sadly, action for many of the issues discussed at such gatherings often stops at being good proposals left in European conference rooms.
But such conferences would be a good practice for all African countries to get a united voice where government, civil society and other education actors push for the same agenda.
The missing link, however, is always the fact that whenever bilateral arrangements to such meetings are scheduled, civil society organisations are always left at the peripheral and other actors in education are treated with suspicion by the status quo.
In order to improve discourse at such conferences, member states need to be open in their preparations to promote a participatory approach for all in order to efficiently and effectively engage other nations.
While this bi-annual conference is convened with heavy representation from Western countries, participants from sub-Saharan Africa are few.
It is because of limited numbers of African attendees that the education predicament in Africa has persisted despite regular such conferences.
For instance, Uganda’s school dropout rate continues to stagger at 68 per cent, only second to Chad’s in Africa.
According to statistics from Uganda National Examinations Board, 17,427 candidates did not turn up for PLE exams in 2016. This is very dangerous in terms of education certainty.
With further damning reports from Unesco itself, the World Bank, Uwezo, Economic Policy Research Centre and other research engines all pointing to gloom and not bloom of our education sector, recommendations from such international conferences need urgent domestication.
As a country, we cannot afford to be preoccupied with doing the same thing and expect different results. We must innovate, reinvigorate and evaluate our systems, procedures and practices.
As key actors in the sector, our hope now lies in the Learning Generation Lab, an innovation we think will be the magic bullet.
The ministry of Education and Sports should strategically harness the opportunity that the lab will offer in a diverse stakeholder base to benchmark for best practices.
Unesco’s conference should offer our sector an opportunity to improve, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. This conference should not just be a routine ceremony, but a target to make innovations work for Africa.
Change is inevitable because lack of good education perpetuates poverty. Every African political and technical player should aim at engaging the powers that be, especially since poverty has already marginalized our communities.
The Education 2030 agenda should not only discuss country reports, but endeavour to prioritise affected counties and their people at the centre of the agenda.
In order to make meaning for such an international conference, Africa needs a paradigm shift as a driver and potential game-changer to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number four.
This is so because education is the central tenant to what all UN agencies and others seek to achieve. Such a conference should seek to advocate a mixed education eco-system – embracing non-governmental organisations, public systems and private partners, as an innovation to the realisation of SDGs.
In Uganda, such opportunities are aplenty. Africa’s future will only be secured if the right to quality education is realised by all regardless of either being south of Sahara or north of Limpopo.
The other magic bullet is the presence of private actors and public-private partnerships that have helped many countries deliver education goals with a difference in addressing 21st century challenges.
We shouldn’t be afraid of innovations. We should, instead, embrace them as a possible solution to the problems that have remained unsolved for decades.
In conclusion, I implore the African leaders attending the conference to tell their story positively. They should continue the gospel of social and economic transformation, but not stagnation.
They should underpin best practices and lessons learnt, not the failing education systems back home for it is our responsibility to make our voices heard, demand for action and deliver discussions that are inspiring.
With a youthful population, Africa from Burundi to Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan to South Africa, Central African Republic to Zimbabwe needs to share positive education dividends.
The Unesco conference should, therefore, offer an opportunity for our nations to reposition themselves as true guarantors for the bright future many Africans aspire to live.
The author is the national secretary, Federation of Non-state Education Institutions (FENEI).