ADEA Commemorates the 30th Day of the African Child: The rights of the child in the digital environment

We commemorate 16th June as the Day of the African Child (DAC); a day set aside by the African Union (AU) to focus on the plight of Africa’s children. This event traces its history back to 1991 when the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union agreed to honor the memory of the 176 persons who died following the student uprising in Soweto, South Africa on 16th June 1976. At that time, students marched in protest against the policy to teach them in a language different from their preferred language, resulting poor quality of learning and education delivery.

Today, we celebrate the memory and bravery of the gallant school children who paid the ultimate price indefence of their right to quality education and to a prosperous future. On this occasion, we call for serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent. ADEA joins member countries to contextualize this day as an opportunity to further address the learning needs of children, advocate for national governments to increase investments in digital technology that supports education, especially foundational learning.

The theme for this year’s DAC is ‘the right of the child in the digital environment’. It speaks to the increasing prevalence of digital technology and its impact and role in shaping the livelihood of Africa’s growing youth population. Studies show that young Africans constitute more than 40% of the global youth population. This means that 4 out of 10 young persons is from Africa. Equally, the UN reports that 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30 years. Yet for every ten unemployed persons, four are young. This contrast should not exist considering the limitless opportunities digital technology offers.

Technology is the language of the young. Internet access and use is at the base of digital technological delivery and have been on the rise globally. As of May 2022, there were about 590 million users (43% internet penetration) in Africa. This figure includes children, who represent a third of all internet users in the world and are increasingly exposed to the virtual environment. In view of this, the digital era has fundamentally changed the way in which children derive and realise their rights.

ADEA is committed to mediate that linkage where member countries, regional economic communities and countries maximize the benefit of digital technology and internet access to deepen the delivery of quality education, especially at the foundational level where Africa’s learning poverty is stark and worrying. For instance, 32 million primary school age children are out of school. The World Bank estimates that weak educational systems are costing the continent 6% of its annual GDP. These are jobs and economic benefits that could change the life of every African child.

As a policy forum and the voice of education in Africa, ADEA’s initiatives and advocacies have been geared towards ensuring countries have the right information and the evidence base to support national initiatives and policies to improve technology access and learning. In the past few months, working with our partners, we have initiated efforts to support countries in reversing the learning poverty. At the ADEA 2022 Triennale, we convened Ministers and ministerial delegations who noted the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s learning systems as well as the unprecedented challenges in foundational learning and thus committed to adopt digitalization to improve the sustainable delivery of education and training in Africa. Ministers also agreed to improve access and equity in education to vulnerable populations, notably young people, women, and children. Equally, the Spotlight Report on foundational learning – a partnership with the African Union and the Global Education Monitoring Report – provides key insights into the foundational learning gaps and proposes policy recommendations to address the gaps.

Earlier in May this year, we launched the 34 African countries’ study report on the use of ICT in education and remote learning during crisis with the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, and Mastercard Foundation – funders of the project. The report captured country-level situational evidence and the level of investments required to bridge the digital divide in the study countries. Countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, and The Gambia are already leveraging this study’s outcome to provide learning access in their schools.

ADEA has also introduced a learning series, Africa Learning Together, where we capture and synthesize knowledge on what is working and how countries can learn from successful national-level interventions elsewhere. In this series, we have reviewed the Catch-up programme implemented by the Ministry of Education in Zambia, to support in-service teacher professional development through peer learning; reviewed the implementation of the PAQUET programme in Senegal to understand how equitable access to education is happening, and looked at the Universal Design for Learning initiative in Malawi that provides learning access to children with disabilities.

Technology has made all these efforts possible. But we know there is a lot more to do. We want to see more schools connected to the Internet with innovative learning materials. We want teachers to leverage technology to upskill their learning delivery capacity. We are also advocating for school leaders and managers to embrace the integration of ICT in teaching and learning. These will ensure that we address learning poverty, address learning loss that happened during COVID-19 and prepare African children that will drive economic growth on the continent.

ADEA continues to call on all its member countries, stakeholders in education and learning as well as global leaders to spend this day in in-depth reflection. We celebrate and congratulate the African child for her strides, struggles and accomplishments and commit to working even harder with our stakeholders and partners to enhance learning system in Africa.

Happy International Day of the African Child!