International Day of the African Child: Fostering reflection and action to address challenges

Instituted in 1991, this significant occasion seeks to honour the children of Africa, champion their rights, and foster contemplation and action to address the enduring challenges they confront daily. In 2023, this observance assumes extraordinary significance, encapsulating a pivotal moment for the world.

This year’s theme, “The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment,” aptly reflects the epochal transformation wrought by the digital revolution. However, the transformation we anticipate extends beyond the realm of technology. In 2023, sub-Saharan Africa will emerge as the region with the largest population of young individuals, an unprecedented demographic reality imbued with profound implications and accompanied by contemporary challenges.

Although time and technology have evolved since the establishment of this annual commemoration, an alarming number of African children continue to endure the denial of their fundamental human rights—a plight that compelled young students in Soweto, South Africa, to courageously protest against educational injustice and inequality during the apartheid regime. Tragically, these students were met with a brutal police ambush and massacre on June 16, 1976. While we commemorate this date to honour their sacrifice, nearly five decades later, a staggering 244 million girls and boys between the ages of 6 and 18 remain deprived of education worldwide. Within sub-Saharan Africa alone, this figure reaches a distressing 100 million.

While the International Day of the African Child persistently draws attention to ongoing challenges, such as the recruitment of child soldiers and the prevalence of female genital mutilation that affects millions of African girls, it also illuminates an exceptional aspect of our swiftly ageing world. By the year 2050, almost one in three children under the age of 18 will hail from Africa—a transformative demographic shift that cannot be overlooked.

A paradigm shifts on the horizon

An epochal shift is unfolding before us on this momentous International Day of the African Child. The year 2023 will witness sub-Saharan Africa emerging as the global leader in terms of its youthful population, particularly those aged 0-14. The sheer size and unprecedented growth rate of this age group make this development historically significant. But what does this transformative shift truly signify for Africa and the world at large? The answer lies in the actions or inactions of leaders—whether they seize this immense opportunity or let it slip through their fingers.

Investing in education is tantamount to investing in the future, and with sub-Saharan Africa’s rapidly expanding population of young individuals, prioritizing robust education systems becomes paramount.

Africa stands as a diverse and vibrant continent, replete with cultural riches, abundant resources, and an abundance of human capital. However, it continues to grapple with numerous challenges, with access to quality education ranking among the foremost concerns.

According to UNESCO, a staggering 59 million children in Africa between the ages of 5 and 17 were out of school in 2021. This statistic represents a formidable impediment to progress and development, for education serves as a catalyst for empowerment, economic growth, and social change. Within the continent, Bridge International Academies has set a remarkable precedent in delivering transformative learning outcomes, empowering students in underserved communities.

Disconnecting from the loop of poverty

Breaking the cycle of poverty represents a compelling reason to invest in education. Education possesses the power to uplift African communities plagued by entrenched poverty. By equipping children with quality education, they acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to secure better employment opportunities in the future. Consequently, they become agents of change, supporting their families and communities, breaking free from the shackles of poverty, and reducing inequality. Over the next 5-10 years, Africa will account for approximately half of the world’s increase in the working-age population, underscoring the imperative of investing in the learning of future generations, as it will shape the skill set of these world-shaping young individuals.

With the population of sub-Saharan Africa skyrocketing, the demand for essential services such as healthcare, infrastructure, and all the elements that foster a prosperous society also surges. Education serves as the bedrock of these vital services, paving the way for Africa’s young population to seize career opportunities.

From an economic standpoint, embracing the increase in Africa’s youth population through education reveals its immense potential. The World Bank estimates that each additional year of education is associated with a 10% increase in household income, and on average, an additional year of education for a country translates to a 2.5% rise in GDP per capita.

Education also plays a pivotal role in fostering innovation, creativity, and critical thinking, all of which are crucial for economic growth. When African children receive quality education, they develop the skills necessary to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They become entrepreneurs, innovators, and problem solvers, propelling sustainable development and contributing to the growth of their nations and the continent as a whole.

Promoting Peace and Stability

Education serves as a powerful force in promoting peace, stability, and social cohesion within communities. By equipping children with quality education, we arm them with the tools to comprehend and address the underlying causes of conflicts, fostering tolerance, empathy, and mutual understanding. Education nurtures a generation of African children who can actively contribute to peaceful coexistence and conflict resolution, laying the foundation for a more harmonious future.

Investing in the Future

Ensuring the successful education of African children necessitates a collective effort from governments, civil society organizations, communities, and individuals. Adequate funding, policy reforms, and infrastructure development are crucial to improving access to education.

Furthermore, investing in teacher training and support systems can enhance the quality of education, guaranteeing that children receive the knowledge and skills they need to thrive. In Nigeria, Bridge International Academies has risen to the challenge. Since its establishment in 2019, Bridge Nigeria has trained over 1,500 teachers, amplifying their expertise to deliver high-quality lessons. They have established 46 schools equipped with innovative systems that support students, teachers, and parents alike.

Africa’s Greatest Asset: Its Youth

The most valuable asset Africa possesses is its young people. Their potential is both exciting and unparalleled. On this International Day of the African Child, it is imperative that we empower this potential by finally providing an education that fosters true learning. When African children are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, they can achieve success not just for themselves or Africa, but for the entire world.

As we commemorate this momentous day, let us reaffirm our commitment to providing quality education to every child in Africa. Education is not only a fundamental right but also a vital driver of progress, empowerment, and prosperity. By investing in the education of African children, we invest in the future of the continent, unlocking its vast potential and ensuring a brighter tomorrow for generations to come. Together, let us work towards creating a world where every African child has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.

About the author

Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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