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Building Africa’s education system requires astute capital allocation

Maserame Mouyeme is the Group Director: Marketing, Public Affairs and Sustainability at Old Mutual Group.

Maserame Mouyeme is the Group Director: Marketing, Public Affairs and Sustainability at Old Mutual Group.

Published May 26, 2022

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By Maserame Mouyeme

As leaders meet to discuss the state of the world and the difficult road ahead at the World Economic Forum this week, a frank and honest discussion about the loss of educational opportunities in developing markets is long overdue.

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It would be a missed opportunity for key decision-makers across government, business, and civil society to ignore – or do little about – the urgent need to rebuild emerging-market education systems in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

If we are to move towards a truly sustainable future, greater urgency, collaboration, and public and private partnerships will be needed.

It must start now, and the sooner we all realise we are part of an eco-system that operates on shared value principles, embracing socioeconomic purpose, the faster we will begin to drive change that matters.

For corporates, this needs to become part of their DNA and their business strategy as the impact on their bottom lines will get more severe unless urgent steps and commitment begins today.

A paper by the OECD on the ‘Economic Impacts of Learning Losses’ lays bare the extent of the problem, noting that a less skilled workforce also implies lower rates of national economic growth.

The loss of one-third of a year in effective learning for just the students affected by the lockdowns in 2020 could, by historical data, lower a country’s GDP by an average of 1.5% over the remainder of the century.

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The reality is that even before COVID-19 hit, the world was experiencing a learning crisis, with 258 million children of primary- and secondary-school age out of school, and the Learning Poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was 53 percent – meaning that over half of all 10-year-old children in the world could not read and understand a simple text. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90 percent, according to the World Bank.

For South Africa it is estimated that the loss of school learning time in 2020 moved the education system backwards to the achievement levels as they were in 2015 – a regression by five years. The learning loss for learners from less resourced schools was 4.2%, higher than learners in more affluent schools at 3.4%. It is therefore clear that COVID-19 worsened already wide inequality gaps.

Startling new statistics were recently reported, confirming that the impact of Covid-19 on education was even worse than feared. Using data from the Western Cape education department’s systemic test results for 2019 and 2021, a team of University of Stellenbosch researchers found the learning losses were most acute in maths, which saw performance plummet in all the assessed grades.

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The average grade 3 score fell from 59.5% to 50.7% between 2019 and 2021, while the average score for grade 6 fell from 55.7% to 47.3% and the average grade 9 score fell from 37.7% to 31.5%.

In the context of COVID-19, World Bank simulations have suggested that learning-adjusted years of schooling could fall from 4.9 years to 4.5 years in sub-Saharan Africa because of the time children spend out of school. This deficiency could result in a lifetime earnings loss of US$2375 to US$6848 per person in sub-Saharan Africa.

An important solution will be to improve the literacy and numeracy education at pre-primary and primary level, as there is growing research on the lack of proper schooling at the conceptual stage.

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Some countries like Tanzania have decided to act and have revised their primary school curricula to focus on practical learning and literacy and numeracy skills.

This came after research indicated that there were serious literacy problems of literacy teaching in public primary schools where most teachers do not have adequate skills of teaching literacy. Factors that contributed to literacy problem were pupils’ late enrolment in standard one, shortages of teaching and learning resources.

Old Mutual realises the extent of the problem painted above and we are therefore allocating funds in the most sustainable way possible to help close the gaps mentioned above.

Through an investment of over R300 million between 2013 and 2019, for instance, we have extended the Old Mutual Education Flagship Programme for an additional five years, from 2021 to 2025.

Together with the Department of Basic Education and other partners, we are going to be driving primary school education to equip young learners early on with the right literacy and numeracy skills, taught in African home languages, to prepare them for every level of their schooling career. We are also collaborating with GROW SA, a leading Early Childhood Development (ECD) network of education centres across South Africa. In Kenya, we are working with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to train teachers on how to effectively deliver literacy, numeracy, and financial education concepts to learners at both the junior secondary and senior secondary phases.

In response to the massive loss of learning, our focus is also on helping strengthen access to quality content and teaching standards through 2 key pillars – 1. Developing high quality financial literacy topics learners struggle with the most, available in multiple languages (including braille and sign language) and multiple platforms, aligned to current subjects, grades and annual teaching plans. 2. Developing teachers, and in time caregivers, to understand and teach numeracy, literacy and financial concepts better. Another important project is ongoing support for skills development and holistic support for unemployed youth.

While there is no single path toward the future of learning – I agree with the World Bank’s view that countries can draw lessons from the pandemic and chart their own path with visionary and bold action to implement targeted investments and reforms starting today.

At Old Mutual we will continue to collaborate with our partners by driving performance while creating an enabling environment that addresses societal ills and lifts the barriers to economic growth. We are committed to making the world a better place.

Maserame Mouyeme is the Group Director: Marketing, Public Affairs and Sustainability at Old Mutual Group.

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