A boy and a girl read books at a library in Lagos, Nigeria A boy and a girl read books at a library in Lagos, Nigeria  (AFP or licensors)

EU urged to change policy and engage with Faith-Based Organisations providing education in Africa

The European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur for Education in Africa, Gyorgy Holvenyi, speaks to Vatican News about the relevance of education and training as tools to empower young Africans to develop their countries.

By John Baptist Tumusiime – Vatican City

“Quality formal education is very important for the development of the person; faith-based organisations play a fundamental role in its provision in Sub-Saharan Africa; the European Union needs to change its policy and establish partnerships with them in its funded education projects on the continent.”

That was the recommendation of Mr. Gyorgy Holvenyi, the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur for Education in Africa, during his recent visit to the headquarters of Vatican News.

Education promotes social cohesion and equality

Mr. Holvenyi described education as an invaluable process of learning through which a child or an adult acquires knowledge, experience, skills, and a comprehensive attitude.

It opens the person’s mind and world view, he added, and helps the learners to realise their potential by preparing them for jobs that enable them to financially support themselves and their families, to gain professional experience, and to develop social skills.

He explained that education is relevant to society when it is responsive to the needs of that society. That means that education curriculums must be adaptable to the changes at a given time.

When education is relevant, he said, it becomes a powerful tool in promoting social cohesion and equality within society by fostering understanding and respect for others, by cultivating a sense of citizenship, by promoting democratic values, and by encouraging active participation in society.

Similarly, it plays a key role in providing equal opportunities in society, regardless of background or circumstances, and by so doing, it contributes to the eradication of prejudices, discrimination, and social inequalities, and to the creation of a more inclusive, tolerant, and harmonious society.

Challenges to education in Africa

Despite its fundamental contribution to the individual and society at large, education faces many challenges in Africa.

Mr. Holvenyi has visited several African countries and held talks with different stakeholders. He says today there are about 200 million children in Africa who have no access to education due to a number of factors, which include a general lack of schools, especially in areas where children can access them.

In some countries, children have to walk many kilometres to reach school. Long distances discourage parents from sending their children to school; they make children tired and also limit their hours of study. Secondly, in many African countries, education is not free; parents have to pay for it. Children from poor families cannot afford it, and consequently, education becomes a privilege for the rich.

Poverty in families compels children to take part in the various home income-generating activities early enough and sometimes to enter the labour market before they have completed basic school,” Mr. Holvenyi said.

Teenage pregnancies are increasingly becoming a hindering factor to girls to continue with education, he added. They are triggered by a number of factors, including defilement by adult men, rape, and poverty, which may compel a girl to have sex with an adult male in order to have money to buy school materials and other needs.

Gender discrimination is also playing a role in preventing girls from accessing education. In some African societies, girls are still valued for marriage and domestic work. A girl may be allowed to attend primary school for a few years, and then removed by parents to be married off in return for monetary compensation or for heads of cattle.

Mr. Holvenyi noted also that many day schools in some African countries do not provide meals to pupils and students, and this negatively affects their concentration and academic performance. It also discourages some from continuing with school.

Disability is another factor that prohibits access to education, Mr. Holvenyi said. Most schools in Africa lack learning materials and the proper infrastructure for children with disabilities. These range from reading and writing materials for the visually impaired to specialized classrooms and transport to school for the physically disabled. Gender plays a role in this, with more girls with disabilities missing out than boys.

Some countries are also lacking sufficient trained teachers. Wars and conflicts, he said, have today become the major hindering factors for many children to access education.

Children often have their entire families killed; many times, they are forced to flee for their lives, at times getting separated from their parents and teachers, or kidnapped by the fighting factions and forced to join their ranks either as child soldiers for boys or as “wives” for girls. Schools in war and conflict areas, if not bombed, are often used by fighters as shelters.

Listen to a clip of the interview

Partnership between the European Union and African Countries

Mr. Holvenyi told Vatican News that the European Union has a close development partnership with African countries and considers education to be part and parcel of development. Given the importance of education, it has also included it in its humanitarian response for areas afflicted by conflicts, to enable displaced children to continue with school.

Every year, the European Union allocates billions of Euros for humanitarian and development aid for Africa and this money is given out to countries that meet the requirements”, which include evidence of genuine need, the rule of law, respect for human rights and guaranteeing democracy, as well as transparency and accountability in spending.

The money budgeted for education is given out as grants to finance different educational projects such as training and improving teachers’ skills, school feeding programmes, construction of classrooms, equipping schools with books and laboratory materials, funding skills and technical education programmes, etc. The projects are supervised by specialized agencies in the recipient countries, which are accountable to the recipient country and to the donor (the European Union).

Inclusion of Faith-Based Organizations

Mr. Holvenyi said that during his visits to Africa, he held discussions with government and religious officials and came to discover that faith-based organisations provide, on average, 40 percent of education in Sub-Saharan Africa, “and yet the European Union continues not to recognise their potential to facilitate sustainable development.”

He called upon the European Union to change its policy, strongly engage with the Faith-Based Organisations, and include them in its development cooperation because they are playing a key role in the education and health sectors of African countries.

He said, “Faith-based organisations are more positioned to make positive contributions because their projects are inclusive, that is, open for everybody, which is a value not only for them but also for the countries in which they are operating, and because they are present at the grassroots of society and, therefore, in a better position to fill the gap where state actors cannot operate and where state services are lacking.”

This inclusion, he said, means they should have access to European Union development funds to invest in the provision of services.

Mr. Holvenyi and his team have already written a report to the European Parliament in which they make many recommendations, including that the European Union should fund those projects in the field of education where partner countries are also engaging themselves because this guarantees the long-term sustainability of the investments, and that mutual respect is absolutely necessary in the sense that the donor should not give orders to African development partners on what to teach and how to teach it, but to value their local input.

With regard to the brain drain currently being experienced in some African countries, Mr. Holvenyi said the provision of relevant education that addresses the needs of the local population will ensure that its recipients secure job opportunities and access decent work in their own countries, and thus reduce the need for migration. Access to education and training, he concluded, is the tool to empower the next generation in Africa, and to strengthen governance and institutions.

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07 February 2024, 14:29