Develop African leaders if you want to fix education mess

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Parents and guardians across the country right now are stretching their purses, selling off assets, and asking relatives to help ensure their children get an education. However, if you asked most Ugandans whether the returns, they are getting from our education system is worthy of the investment and sacrifices, the answer would probably be a “NO”

A report by UWEZO on learning assessment indicated that 7/10 of children in Uganda who enroll in primary school cycle drop out before completing it. Even worse, only 3 out 10 children in primary 3-7 are able to read or solve an arithmetic problem at grade two level. These statistics disproportionately affect low-income and rural children, especially those who attend UPE schools. The challenges cited include poor infrastructure, school leadership, and teacher quality gaps, as well as teacher absenteeism and poor curriculum implementation. Education inequity leads to poor human development outcomes and eventually hampers social and economic development of our country. And this challenge is not limited to Uganda.

In Nigeria, for example, 6 million school-going age children are out of school, and in Malawi, half of children drop out before completing primary education. Despite the strides taken by African governments to meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (to ensure inclusive and equitable education), many countries in Africa are falling short.

Fixing education inequity in our continent and Uganda in particular requires an infusion of a new breed of leaders — ones who are solving old problems with a new lens. Specifically, we need African servant leaders who are asking, “What can I do to be part of the solution?” as opposed to pointing fingers at the problem.

Most of all, we need leaders who are locally rooted but globally minded. My work today as the co-founder and CEO of Teach For Uganda is a direct outgrowth of my lived experiences as a child raised in southwest Uganda and the efforts I undertook to gain a good education. I viscerally understand the problems — and, by extension, the opportunities — within the Ugandan education system, and am driven from a deep place to solve them.

In our two years at TFU, we’ve taught and mentored over 2,000 children in eight schools, improving both their academic and social and emotional learning outcomes. We are now working out a partnership with the Busoga Education Initiative (BEI) to expand our innovation to reach over 15,000 children in UPE schools in Busoga region.

At TFU, we’re helping develop a cohort of young education leaders who are recruited from across the top universities in the country and placed in the central Ugandan district of Luwero, and now expanding to Busoga region. These are young Ugandan effective leaders who, like me, are working in education with the ultimate goal of giving all Ugandan children a world class education.

My colleagues in Ghana and Nigeria are helping this philosophy grow across the continent. They are channeling hundreds of their rising generation of graduates and young professionals to work in low-income public and private schools. Developing African leaders has a ripple effect in our classrooms and communities.

It is with this in mind that I believe education investments in Africa should focus on developing leadership on the continent, so we may accelerate the solutions that are championed by the people closest to the problem. Philanthropists, policy makers and those who care about the future of education in Africa should focus their efforts and resources on a variety of programs that create a sustained pipeline of effective teachers whose knowledge is deeply rooted in the local context but who also possess the skills and mindsets of globally-informed education leaders.

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