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Interview with the Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Ahlin Byll-Cataria

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“ADEA is working toward making the 2011 Triennale a platform for in-depth debate – with the participation of all stakeholders in development – on the reforms needed to build effective and relevant educational and training systems, for the sustainable development of Africa.”

The Triennale, to be held in November, 2011 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is the world’s most important conference on education in Africa. Nine months before the event, ADEA’s Executive Secretary, Ahlin Byll-Cataria, sheds light on the Triennial and related issues saying, “Africa’s advantage lies in its youth and in the dynamism of its population.” Read the interview.

Question: Mr. Executive Secretary, could you briefly describe the mission of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA)? The association is hosted by the AfDB since 2008.

Answer: The membership of ADEA consists of all African ministers of education and training as well as 19 development organizations and foundations, including the African Development Bank (AfDB). It is first and foremost a forum for dialogue on education policies between African ministers of education, cooperation and development organizations, and other stakeholders. This dialogue is necessary to meet the challenges facing education in Africa. Within ADEA, ministers of education and their internal and external partners exchange knowledge and experiences and develop shared views concerning these challenges and the strategies that should be used to tackle them. ADEA’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for reform through the pooling of its members’ thoughts, experiences, lessons learned and expertise.

Question: ADEA is gearing up for the 2011 Triennale, a major event which will address issues related to education and training for sustainable development. Why this theme and what are the prospects for Africa?

Answer: The 2011 Triennale theme: “Promoting critical knowledge, skills and qualifications for sustainable development in Africa: How to design and implement an effective response to education and training systems” is of high importance for Africa’s development. Currently, Africa is seen as a continent of hope, with a huge reservoir of natural resources to meet, not only its own needs, but also those of other regions in the world. Its young and dynamic population is regarded as important assets.

However, availability of these natural resources does not automatically guarantee Africa’s development.

There is also a need for knowledge, critical skills and requisite qualifications to process our natural resources and build economies, the first purpose of which is to meet the needs of our societies; while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities offered by globalization. There is a need for educational and training systems tailored to meet our countries’ real needs; taking into account the social, economic, cultural and political realities of Africa; and promoting integration of the youth into the society and the labor force, with real prospects for the future. The theme of the Triennale is therefore a key issue for the continent’s development, and concerns all sectors. The challenge to face is to be able to involve all development stakeholders in a holistic process of reflection on the link between education and training on one hand, and sustainable development on the other; and to make this Triennale a special occasion for inquiry, reflection and shared visions of Africa’s future. What we are counting on is that the Triennale – by enabling us to analyze all the potential of the continent and defining the specific role of education and training in tapping this potential – will be a moment of hope and confidence in the future, particularly for young people and the most disadvantaged groups.

Question: With the highest rates of population growth in the world, Africa is under considerable pressure in its efforts to achieve Education for All (EFA). What is ADEA’s take on this situation?

Answer: Helping African governments to cope with the growing demand for education at all levels is one of our major concerns. Through the activities of its nine working groups, ADEA and its partners have explored ways to enable African countries to take diversity of educational needs into consideration and to offer a diversified supply. New opportunities offered by information and communication technology (ITC) are part of our strategy to achieve the EFA goals.

Question: You recently stated: “No other institution in Africa invests as much in education as the AfDB.” What is your assessment of your cooperation with the AfDB?

Answer: The AfDB is not merely ADEA’s host institution. It is a full member of ADEA and a regional organization, mainly focused on Africa’s development, which makes it a privileged partner for ADEA. To this effect, we are trying to develop synergy and complementarity with the AfDB in education and training related activities. The results of our cooperation are positive. Our goal is to develop further synergies in the coming years with regard to strategic development of technical and vocational skills, science, technology, innovation and capacity building at country level.

Question: What is ADEA’s relationship with the African Union, which in 2006 launched an action plan for Africa’s Second Decade of Education?

Answer: ADEA has cooperated closely with the African Union (AU) for many years. The AU Heads of State, at their tenth summit, invited all member states to join ADEA. The AU's Bureau of Ministers of Education (COMEDAF) has merged with that of ADEA. The AU and ADEA signed a memorandum of understanding in 2008 and ADEA, which has accumulated expertise in the eight priority areas of the Action Plan of the Second Decade, has played a major role in its implementation.

Question: Can you be more specific about ADEA’s role in this respect?

Answer: I would mention in particular the support provided by our Working Group on Education Management and Policy Support (WGEMPS) to the establishment of the AU’s observatory and the development and harmonization of education management information systems (EMIS) at continental level. I would also mention the support provided by our Working Group on Early Childhood Development (WGECD), which has spearheaded work on early childhood development (ECD) in Africa and whose advocacy and analytical activities have led to the AU’s adoption of ECD as the eighth priority area for the Second Decade of Education. Another important activity is that of ADEA’s Working Group on Higher Education (WGHE), which is currently hosted by the AU Commission for Human Resources, Science and Technology and supports the Commission in its higher education policy, particularly the Pan-African University initiative.

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