African Youth voices join HCA, ADEA, African leaders, Education Ministers and development partners to call for a continental commitment to confront Africa’s learning crisis

Urge the African Union to put foundational learning at the heart of the African Union Year of Education, and for governments to prioritize the use of data and evidence to drive informed, cost-effective, and system-wide interventions that can be implemented using existing resources.


Addis Ababa, February 13, 2024 — African youth voices, alongside Human Capital Africa (HCA) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), have today issued a call to action for African Heads of State and Government to commit and champion foundational learning ahead of the African Union Year of Education. The call urges leaders to recognize the scale of the learning crisis confronting the continent, commit to a continental strategy to address it and invest in the data and evidence to guide effective policy and interventions. Smartly allocating existing resources to proven tools to accelerate progress and ensure that every child in Africa has access to quality foundational education.

Participants at the Human Capital Africa roundtable on foundational learning called on Heads of State and Government to acknowledge that as a continent it is unacceptable that nine out of ten of our children are unable to read with understanding and do basic math by age 10. With this, Africa faces compounded reductions in human capital. The roundtable also called for Heads of State to recognize that failing to address the learning crisis will:

  • Have catastrophic results for the continent’s education outcomes across secondary, tertiary and TVET, significantly restricting future employment opportunities.
  • Prevent the achievement of at least ten of the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa leading to worse health outcomes, greater youth unemployment and deeper levels of poverty.
  • Significantly impact the prospects of Africa’s private sector by restricting the availability of a skilled workforce.
  • Prevent the achievement of the African Union’s Vision for the ‘Africa we want’ by 2063.

Opening the two-day event, Human Capital Africa Advisor Board member and former Deputy Chair of the African Union Erastus Mwencha said: 

“It is crucial to acknowledge the gravity of the situation that lies before us. Despite our concerted efforts and progress over the years, a staggering 9 out of 10 children in Africa are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of ten. This is not just a statistic; it represents millions of dreams deferred, countless potentials unfulfilled, and a future that is being compromised.”

The event was attended by representatives from the Africa Foundational Learning Ministerial Coalition, which was formed to enable collaboration, knowledge sharing and collective advocacy for African countries that are leading the fight against the learning crisis. Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Hon Madalitso Wirima the Minister of Education of Malawi, and Chair of the Coalition said: 

“We stand united in our mission to ensure that every boy and every girl can read and perform mathematics. This is not just an educational goal; it is a catalyst for change across our continent. Our resolve is clear, to lead the response at the national level and develop innovative solutions, and that is why we have all committed to the Ministerial communique issued in Zambia in 2023, at the ADEA convened High Level Policy dialogue on foundational learning. As we stand together at this pivotal moment, let us acknowledge the power of education and the key role it plays in unlocking the potential of our continent.”

Speaking passionately about the need for Heads of State to act, former Minister of Finance of South Africa, and HCA Advisory Board Member Trevor Manuel, said: 

“We have to focus on how we can build a critical mass of heads of state and government from this summit, so they are fully aligned with our ambition to solve the education crisis. Many of us have been to numerous summits held by institutions. There is always a declaration. We must ensure that it does not do lip service to education. We need a program of action that can be implemented that is fully actionable.

We must remind all of our heads of state that they were once students, and that they are all parents. They must be able to understand the difference between good education and bad. They know about unemployment, and the impact it has on youth. They know the demand for skills on the continent, and the danger that we fall into decay without them. Our Heads of State must understand that they have the power to reverse this decay.” 

The Summit was attended by special guest of honor, Her Excellency President Sahlework Zewde of Ethiopia, who delivered a keynote address expressing her belief in the importance of education and acknowledging that Heads of State and Government have prioritized it through the declaration of 2024 as the African Year of Education.

Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Founder of Human Capital Africa emphasized the fundamental requirement for better use of data, and expanded collection of data and evidence to ensure that the interventions implemented by government are targeted and effective: 

“If there is a proper evidence-based approach then the incremental cost of doing the right things at foundational levels will be negligible compared to the outcomes that it will achieve throughout the education system. The integrity of the foundation of education is something that we must embrace as a continent. Our leaders must become Chief Learning Officers to demonstrate the leadership required to overcome this challenge. This group here today is focused on ensuring that the most influential voices on our continent say that this crisis must be fixed.”

The Executive Secretary of ADEA, Albert Nsengiyumva stressed: 

“We have all understood the challenge we face, we must now ensure that our concerns are shared as widely as possible, and that Heads of State hear our message in the context of all the challenges facing the continent. They must consider the impact that failing to address the learning crisis will have on all of our other continental priorities. We know what is required - now we have to drive implementation systemically, not on a project basis, and at scale.”

The messages from African leaders and influential voices were supported by African youth, who were strongly represented at the summit and stressed the urgency for action by launching an online campaign to raise awareness of the challenge. 

The two-day summit was co-convened HCA, ADEA, UNICEF and the Aliko Dangote Foundation. It was also attended by representatives of the private sector, civil society and implementing organizations. They played a significant role in rallying other organizations to address the future skills gap in the workforce by addressing the learning needs of children now. They called for increased investment in technology to enhance foundational learning such as access to digital resources, implementing e-learning platforms, and ensuring that both teachers and students have the necessary skills to use technology effectively.