March 27, 2024

African Minds Transforming Futures: Building Resilient Education Systems

March 27, 2024

African Minds Transforming Futures: Building Resilient Education Systems



Students and Distinguished Guests,

My name is Toyin Saraki, and I am the Founder and President of The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, an NGO headquartered in Nigeria which works to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for women and children across the country. WBFA prioritises frontline impact with global advocacy, in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is with great honour that I join you today to provide the keynote address at this year’s LSE Africa Summit. This summit, renowned for its commitment to exploring the complexities and opportunities across Africa’s socio-economic landscape, is a testament to the collective dedication towards shaping a more prosperous future for our continent.

The theme of this year’s summit, “African Minds Transforming Futures: Building Resilient Education Systems,” highlights one of the most critical pillars of development in Africa: education, and is especially attuned to the African Union theme of this year: “Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building Resilient Education Systems for Increased Access to Inclusive, Lifelong, Quality, and Relevant Learning in Africa”.

Even with a substantial increase in the number of African children with access to basic education, a large number still remain out of school, with nearly 20.2 million children in Nigeria not in school even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, and according to UNESCO out of the 244 million children aged 6 to 18 not in school globally, more than 40%, or 98 million of them, live in sub-Saharan Africa. This reality calls for concern.

Education is not merely about acquiring knowledge, it is the cornerstone upon which resilient societies are built, economies flourish, and futures are transformed. Without education, where would any of us be today? Every single person in this room knows education transforms lives, economies and societies. However, the reality we face across much of Africa, particularly in Nigeria, highlights the urgency of addressing the myriad challenges plaguing our education systems, which continue throughout the span of life, from post-secondary education or upskilling much later on in a profession.

What are the barriers preventing children, women and the most marginalised communities from accessing education? The answers are multifaceted but rooted in systemic issues such as poverty, gender inequality, cultural norms, and inadequate infrastructure. For many children in Nigeria, especially girls and women living in rural areas, the journey to school or university is fraught with obstacles, ranging from long distances to lack of proper facilities and safety concerns.

Furthermore, the quality of education offered, even for those fortunate enough to attend school, often falls short of providing the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in an increasingly competitive global landscape. The brain drain from Nigeria has also had a severe impact on the country’s educational system, as the lack of qualified teachers and professors has been especially detrimental to providing quality education opportunities to many citizens.

Education is in serious crisis, and progress towards the attainment of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, needs to be enhanced. Globalisation patterns and pressures in our increasingly interconnected world have brought remarkable gains yet, we are keenly aware that the benefits are yet to reach all. Equitable inclusive access to lifelong quality education for all, ensuring that people, especially, women and children match the 21st century global and local marketplaces, will enable adolescents and adults with knowledge and competency to participate in socio-economic, political and civic life.

Despite having the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria faces a shortage of skilled workers hindering its growth. The roots of Nigeria productivity crisis burrow deep into the failures of its education sector. As per UNESCO’s data, Nigeria’s illiteracy rate was a staggering 59% among youths and 65% among adults over 15 years old. Despite the glaring need for reform, the government’s budget allocation to education has consistently been less than the recommended 26% by UNESCO. Addressing these challenges require a concerted effort from all stakeholders – governments, civil society, the private sector, and the international community. 

Education is indispensable to productivity, progress and prosperity, and as the African Union promises to contribute towards revitalised, quality, relevant, and harmonised education systems responsive to the needs of Africa, it is necessary to take into account Africa’s aspiration and capacity in terms of human and material resources for sustainability, longevity and equality. We must prioritise investments in education, not as an expenditure but as an investment in the future prosperity of our nations. 

This means allocating sufficient resources to improve infrastructure, train teachers, and ensure that every child and adolescent, regardless of gender or socio-economic background, has access to quality education. Moreover, we must tackle the root causes of inequality which perpetuate the cycle of educational deprivation. This entails empowering marginalised communities, particularly women and girls, and addressing cultural norms that hinder their access to education. 

When a girl is educated, she grows up into a woman who has the adequate knowledge, information and skill to ensure the welfare of her family, the health and wellbeing of her children and the impact her actions have on her community. As the Founder and President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, I am proud to say that we are committed to playing our part in this transformative journey. 

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa has been at the forefront of prioritising education and investing in the lives of children, adolescents, adults and the elderly in Nigeria and across Africa. Since inception in 2004, WBFA has actively engaged in advocacy, writing of educational materials, policy papers and articles to promote education and implementation of health education programmes in collaboration with its local and global partners. Our learnings, guidance and recommendations are currently being actualized through various programmes such as our Adolescent Skills and Drills, Personal, Social and Health Education and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme, implemented by a team of committed experts in public health and education who lead our on the ground community trusted grassroots programming. 

We are working tirelessly to ensure that every girl, child, adolescent and adult in Nigeria has the opportunity to fulfil their potential through education, but our efforts alone are not enough. We need collective action, collaboration, and innovation to build resilient education systems that can withstand the challenges of today and prepare our youth for the opportunities of tomorrow. This requires thinking beyond traditional models of education and embracing technology, entrepreneurship, and interdisciplinary approaches to learning. 

Nelson Mandela famously called education “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The future of Africa depends on the investments we make in education today, equipping our children, youth and adults with the tools, skills, and possibility of imagination necessary to shape and transform the Africa around them, making their community and society better, more prosperous, and, hopefully, more peaceful in the years ahead.  

It is evident today, as you take part in the summit and share dialogue, that each student of the London School of Economics has the drive and resources to be the force behind the realisation of our shared educational vision. Each of  you is armed with knowledge, passion, and a commitment to excellence, embodying the African minds capable of transforming futures and building resilient education systems. Each of you has ideas, advocacy, and unwavering determination, to not only shape the future of Africa but also inspire global change. I look forward to continuing to support the students of LSE and the Programme for African Leadership, as through our joint efforts we will truly create a world where education is the key to unlocking the full potential of every African child, every African community, and every African nation.      

Thank you. 


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