Joint Statement by African Ministers of Education and the Global Foundational Learning Coalition

Joint Statement​ at the Ministerial Breakfast Meeting on Foundational Learning, at the 2024 Education World Forum (EWF)

Photo: HCA

On Wednesday May 21st, 2024, on the margins of the Education World Forum (EWF) in London, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and Human Capital Africa (HCA) hosted a powerful breakfast meeting of African Ministers of Education, with the support of development partners from the Global Coalition on Foundational Learning. It was a showcase of the growing commitment from African policymakers to lead the response to the learning crisis on the continent. This builds on the announcement last week of the decision of His Excellency Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, President of the Republic of Zambia, to accept ADEA’s request to become the Champion of Foundational Learning (FL) in Africa.

At the session, moderated by the Founder of HCA, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, and in which the Minister of Education of Zambia Hon. Douglas Syakalima, was the mouthpiece of colleague Ministers, policymakers restated their belief in equipping students with strong foundational literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional skills. This has been established as essential not just for future academic success, but also for a smooth transition into the workforce and ultimately, the future prosperity of Africa.

A joint statement by Dr Ezekwesili, representing ADEA and the Global FL Coalition, and Hon Douglas Syakalima, representing Ministers of Education present, reads as follows:

If 9 out of 10 of our children are unable to understand a simple sentence or do basic maths, then the workforce of tomorrow will not enable our sustainable growth. Given the scale of the learning crisis, African Policy makers and practitioners are actively seeking evidenced-based solutions that can deliver rapid impact on FL, while recognizing the complementary roles of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Early Childhood Education (ECE). Unless we address foundational learning, the crisis will continue to hinder economic growth and disadvantage future generations. A strong, solid foundation enables effective learning at other levels of education.

To achieve this, we believe that more African leaders must urgently take ownership of the challenges facing our continent. Ministers in the room acknowledged that

“We must have African-led solutions to African challenges, by taking an honest look at the data, and not underestimating the magnitude of the problem if we are to begin to make progress.”

We must also address the sometimes siloed "fragmented, cherry-picking" approach by development partners.

We, and the Ministers in the room, called for a critical shift in how we address foundational learning needs. Led by the recommendation of the Minister of Education for Malawi, Madalitso Wirima Kambauwa, we call for the development and implementation of integrated FLN programs by development partners, acting as a single, collaborative entity. Furthermore, we urge increased, rigorous support from these partners to facilitate the scaling up of effective FLN initiatives. We emphasize the importance of evidence-based approaches in program design to achieve measurable learning outcomes. This includes incorporating implementation research findings to ensure programs are optimized for success. Finally, we recognize the vital role of collaboration at all levels. This requires a concerted effort at national, regional, and continental levels, involving implementing agencies, ministries, and all stakeholders working together towards a common goal. This collaborative approach should focus on making a difference and addressing the unique challenges and opportunities within Zambia and other African nations. If we build this coordination of partners under the leadership of countries with integrated programs, it will help support scaling programs into our systems and national planning processes.

We note that good programs exist on the continent, and ending the learning crisis is possible. But we need to scale to achieve greater outcomes. We were impressed by the success stories shared by countries such as Ghana's data-driven approach and community engagement programs, and Malawi’s five (5) Sets approach. Zambia’s experience and success with the "Teaching at the Right Level" (TaRL) methodology, while keeping age considerations in mind, has also clearly demonstrated how we can scale interventions that are government-led, use existing government systems, personnel, locally generated data and technical assistance, to ensure all students receive a quality education. There are many more examples of innovation and progress across our continent as countries lead the response to the crisis, and it is important that we take the time to learn from and celebrate them.

As a continent, we must also acknowledge the work that remains if we are to overcome this challenge.

  • We must address teacher capacity and resourcing, equipping them with tools and cost-effective solutions like Structured Pedagogy and TaRL to improve education outcomes within the constraints of existing budgets. Retaining qualified teachers in rural areas remains a challenge. We are encouraged by other countries' efforts, such as hardship allowances, to incentivize teachers to serve in these underserved communities.
  • We must be informed by accurate, reliable, and comparable data, taking the time to measure learning outcomes early and well. Success will be built on a strong and reliable dataset, and we must work together to support more countries to collect, analyse and report on this data, preserving the SDG 4.1.1a indicator.

2024 is the African Union Year of Education (AUYoE). It is a significant opportunity to campaign to end the learning crisis and advance country-level action on FL through a continental scorecard to track key commitments made at the AUYoE, and specifically on FL. We are also committed to working with our fellow African nations and development partners to ensure that foundational learning is embedded at the heart of the continent’s future education strategy. Important opportunities to contribute to this are approaching, including the African Union Mid-Year Summit in Accra, Ghana in July and the FLEX ADEA High-Level Policy Dialogue Kigali, Rwanda in November. We call on all stakeholders to continue to work to implement the recommendations in the Communique from the ADEA High Level Policy Dialogue in Lusaka, Zambia in November 2023 and the Call to Action released by Human Capital Africa and ADEA at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in February 2024.

Together, we can ensure all African children have access to quality education and the opportunity to reach their full potential.