Dialoguing and building consensus on how to help people striving for peace and a decent life is the theme this month, at the 72nd session of the most representative organ of the United Nations – the General Assembly (GA).

Access to relevant education will allow us to find the pathway to the ambitions of this year’s GA.

Despite the gains in human wellbeing achieved through the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), inequity in education is soaring around the globe.  This means that millions of people are being left behind.

UNESCO Institute of Statistics data tells us we are denying about 264 millions of children and youth, through no fault of their own, the right to education.  In 2015, estimates based on household surveys, show that nearly 32 million children are out-of-school in West and Central Africa – with main concentrations in Nigeria and Congo-Kinshasa – while an additional 21 million may be excluded from school in the future. Worldwide, these children and other youths face discrimination and economic hardship; are already mothers, workers, or soldiers involved in conflict; and have disabilities.  Other times, they live in remote areas without schools, teachers and even schooling equipment.

At 23, Victoria Ibiwoye, the first Youth Representative to the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, is a thought leader who makes and scales ideas to drive sustainable change in education.  As the Director of OneAfricanChild Foundation for Creative Learning, Victoria strengthens the capacity of low-income community children and youth on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED).  I spoke to Victoria on the realities of Equity in Education.

1. Why is it important to have many voices standing up for out-of-school children and youth?

Education is a fundamental right established in various international human rights conventions.  The right to education is pronounced in treaties such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – all calling for equality of opportunity in education.

It has been several decades and many of these conventions are yet to be fulfilled. More than ever before, there is an urgency to provide high quality, inclusive education for all which is one of the hallmark of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Meeting the education 2030 agenda requires as many voices standing up for millions of out-of-school children and youth as possible.  Mobilizing educators, trainers, and advocates needs to reach beyond those in traditional institutions. It must extend to other education stakeholders such as youth, professionals, practitioners, and citizens across all levels and sectors.  When everyone plays a role to prioritize inclusive and equitable quality education that puts the needs of marginalised children and youth at the centre, both the individual and society benefits from the outcome.

2. Why is equitable access and learning, particularly for African girls, so important to child advocacy and development, given that there are many other primary and secondary educational issues to deal with?

Many children are denied access to quality education in Nigeria, however, the proportion of out-of-school girls to boys is alarming.  According to the statistics from UNICEF, 6 in 10 out-of-school children in Nigeria are girls.  If education is a universal human right, then every girl deserves equal opportunity to be empowered and contribute to social transformation.

Equitable access to learning for African girls can help reduce child marriages in Sub-Saharan Africa by 14% if all girls had primary education, and by 64% if all girls had secondary education.  Education also boosts confidence and empowers girls to make informed choices about their lives.  Equitable access and learning for girls helps in overcoming all forms of gender discrimination and stigma which helps them reach their full potentials as they grow.

Girl education reduces inequality and increases the diversity of skills and competencies which leads to innovation. There can be no sustainable development without empowering girls to become sustainable leaders and that begins with education. 

3. In recent years, more than governments or academic institutions, people have come to trust social enterprises and NGOs for addressing issues on learning divides and social disadvantages. In your experience, what key things are this community (non-governmental organizations and social enterprises) doing differently, and what limits the implementation of their targets and vision, especially at the grassroots?

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and social enterprises exist to complement the efforts of the governments and their institutions.  Also, most organizations are established because there is the need to fill a void in the system, where a decision to wait any longer would cause greater damage to the society.  For us at OneAfricanChild Foundation, our mission is to promote inclusive learning through education for sustainable development and global citizenship for low-income community development.  To increase access to equitable education, we provide teachers training as a tool to introduce creativity and innovation into learning, especially in its approach and delivery.

What I have seen some organisations do differently is working with the community to develop projects that meet their needs.  They work with their target groups - not only as beneficiaries, but also as partners in development.  They understand their needs and some organizations engage their beneficiaries as active volunteers in the transformation process. Also, some organizations have been able to build trust and lasting partnership with their stakeholders by exhibiting values such as transparency, integrity, and accountability; this makes them stand out from other institutions.  These organizations also engage multiple stakeholders, including those outside their environment, the community, and wider society around the world.

Thought there are often great intentions to make impact, organizations can face setbacks due to lack of substance or inexperience in humanitarian world.  This may lead to redundancy in implementation over time, and inadequate capacity-building training is a serious risk.  Stakeholders must develop new skills and build resilience if they intend to operate within a space that struggles with lack of adequate funding, bureaucracy in implementation, and corruption – all of which are limiting factors to organizations working at the grassroots.

4. From learning to cope with dyslexia, you started conversations about existence of diverse and special needs among children, how discrimination and marginalization often sets in, as well as how necessary low-income children are not left behind too. How difficult have these conversations been in Nigeria?

Conversations around learning disabilities have not been all that difficult in Nigeria.  I would say there has not been enough awareness, in school and in the society at large.

I found out about dyslexia recently from a friend who is also dyslexic.  All my life, I tried to fit into an academic identity that didn’t feel like mine, but with quality education, I now know differently.

Since learning about dyslexia, I have been working more to inform others through educating teachers and trainers to maintain perspective of the different learning needs of students in the classroom.  Conversations need to extend beyond the schools walls to reflect educational policies so that assessment goes beyond tests and examination scores, and instead puts into consideration the learner’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioural skills.  A holistically-educated mind needs thinking skills and social skills that enables the learner to communicate and collaborate, self-reflect, think critically and have the skills to undertake complex problem-solving.

5. What is the future of alternative school programmes and after-school activities for affected children facing persistent barriers in creating shared prosperity in Africa? In how many years’ time do you see commitments to this becoming a reality?

The future of alternative school programmes is hinged on Partnership for the Goals, which is Sustainable Development Goal 17.  It is the responsibility of the government to provide access to education for marginalised children and youth as a fundamental right.  However, it may take decades to reach this goal if the government is shouldered with the responsibility alone. That’s why we have private bodies working with the State to promote equity in education.  Their initiative helps to ensure that more children, especially girls, are not denied an education that is their right.  Also, they double the effort of the government by introducing innovative tools and resources needed to achieve the SDGs.

To make a huge difference in education and put every child in school.  It will take a while and I look forward to 2030 being the year that most or all of the commitments would have been met.  I strongly believe in the SDG Target 4.7 agenda item that states: “By 2030, all learners will have acquired the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”

Next time you see someone out-of-school, think about how you can help them.  For more shared progress, we must look at the future and urgently commit to equity in education, at all levels.


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