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Tunis, July 16, 2009 – Africa’s tertiary and scientific education capabilities have to be rebuilt, because no nation can advance without that capability, the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group President, Donald Kaberuka, said on Wednesday, July 15, 2009, at the opening of the African finance and education ministers’ conference in Tunis which is being held on the theme: “Sustaining the Education and Economic Momentum in Africa amidst the Current Global Financial Crisis”.
Addressing participants on the theme: “Human Capital for Africa’s Long-Term Development: Sustaining Progress in Challenging Times”, Mr. Kaberuka said that attention should be paid to “leveraging technology much more effectively at the primary and secondary school levels; a clearer clarification of the role of the market for education, especially at the post-primary level where the private sector is the main provider; as well as innovative ways of providing education, irrespective of whether it is public or private.”
The World Bank Africa Region Vice President, Obieageli Ezekwesili, who chaired the official opening of the conference, congratulated the 15 finance ministers and 22 education ministers who attended the event, as well as the African Union (AU), UNESCO and UNICEF representatives for the interest they showed in the conference. She commended the active role of the civil society in the global campaign for education.
The AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, Jean-Pierre Ezin, for his part, said that “the African Union is convinced that education is a key to the attainment of its collective vision for Africa, including social and economic development”. He recognized efforts made on the continent in the educational sector over the last few decades. He however pointed out that “access to secondary education is barely at 50%, tertiary education enrolment in Africa lags all regions of the world; girls and women are generally under-represented at all levels of education; teachers are still a big issue, with severely inadequate numbers and limited qualifications.”
Also speaking during the event, the Tunisian Education Minister, Hatem Ben-Salem, said the financial crisis should not be seen as a fatality, it should be seen as an opportunity for education. He stressed that strategic investments should be made on information technology as a key tool for knowledge transfer.
Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Jacques Malpel, said the crisis had a social cost. Without qualified and healthy workers, recovery might be delayed and growth would be compromised. It is the responsibility of all development partners to assist the implementation of national sectoral policies, particularly in the field of education, through constructive dialogue, he underscored.
The Fast Track Initiative Secretariat (FTI) Deputy Head, Linda English, spoke in favor of FTI Catalytic Fund replenishment campaign which looks to raise US$ 1.2 billion over the next 18 months. It is estimated that this amount will put an additional 17 million children in school.
The UNESCO representative at the event, Steven Obeegadoo, pointed out that “the current crisis has not yet affected education expenditure in a decisive way, but probably it is just a question of time before the economic slowdown is felt in social sectors.” It is therefore crucial to recognize the role of education in any economic recovery strategy and the need to protect the most vulnerable social groups.
The UNICEF Tunisia Representative, Maria-Luisa Fornara, for her part, stressed that “the present global economic crisis can have long-term intergenerational impacts – that will be hard to recover from – if the risks are not urgently addressed. Children and women are already being severely affected and the full impact of the global slowdown on the poorest and most vulnerable may yet to be fully felt.” She added that “Africa is perhaps facing one of the biggest challenges of our times in education. But for the bold, great challenges can be great opportunities. Ministers of Education and Ministers of Finance have it in their power to create a breakthrough for education in Africa.”
Speakers at the event stressed the importance and advantage of investing in education and commended the holding of this conference which is jointly organized by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank (WB), with the support of the donor partners of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFA FTI). Participants will, during the three-day conference, discuss issues that would provide guidance on the conference’s theme.