Why access to education should be Africa and Europe’s No.1 priority

Why access to education should be Africa and Europe’s No.1 priority

Sometimes discussions around access to education, or the lack of which for young people can be a bit abstract. What universal measure do you for instance use to illustrate this world problem?

Statistics can tell a story but, sometimes, people never get to know the faces behind statistics so oftentimes the appalling statistics simply remain that, statistics.

My goal is not quote statistics or policy documents but to tell you the story of my life, a story shared by many young people in my community in rural Uganda, across Africa and Europe. Yet, first, I will attempt to paint the picture of access to education or the lack of which, in statistical terms.

In 2015, according to the Brookings Institute, 119 million European citizens, representing more than 23% of the population, were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Rural poverty, Brookings noted, which appears to be less documented than urban poverty, is linked to the specific disadvantages of rural areas. These include an unfavourable demographic situation, a weaker labour market, limited access to education and remoteness and rural isolation.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion on the globe. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, according to UNESCO. I nearly formed part of this poignant statistic. I will tell you my story.

On February 22, 2007, I became the first graduate on my village. That in itself is telling. For the thousands of years the village called Kikandwa has existed, no one had ever got a degree until 2007. Can you comprehend that?

This is where I was born. Orphaned at ten, it was my grandmother, married to a man who became my step grandfather who would take care of me.

Raised in a poverty-stricken family, acquiring the basic necessities of was, without mention, difficult. There were times when I fell sick and my guardians couldn’t afford to take me to hospital. They prayed I would get well. If a parent cannot afford basic healthcare for their child, most likely they cannot afford an education for that child.

When my peasant grandparents could not afford basic healthcare for me, it was just a matter of time that my education would be a victim too. I nearly dropped out of school but by God’s grace, I met good-hearted persons, I call them Good Samaritans, who held my hand up and supported me through school. I went on to became the first graduate on my village.

Stories like mine are shared by millions of young people worldwide. Not the fanciest of stories, I guess, but they point to something, something wrong somewhere. Why, in this age, should millions of young people strive to access an education? Over 130 million girls, according to ONE Campaign group, do not go to school. Girls face social, cultural and economic barriers to accessing and staying in school. In most of the top 10 toughest countries for girls to have an education, over half of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Why should such great resource be locked out of the world system, for surely, without an education, will be.

Which world are you handing over to us – for surely, we, the youth, are taking over – with a population of young people who have missed opportunity to be in school? Isn’t access to education a basic human right? A society of people with skills, knowledge and information is always the best. Education has a magical multiplier effect. And we can all do something to realising a world where no one is left behind.

When I graduated with my first degree, there was joy, enormous joy. But there was something, something that always touched my heart – seeing people languish in poverty never was a nice experience. I was convinced that just as education has transformed societies the world over, the lack of which for several of young people in my community undermined would be successful lives.

I wanted to do something that would make a real difference in the lives of people. My journey of grace had made me understand everyone needs a hand extended to them so they could realize their dreams. I conceived a Dream. It was a joyful burden God had put on my heart – joyful because the thought of transforming lives of people was pleasant to the mind yet a burden because I didn’t know how it would turn into a life-transforming reality. I was more or less like the people I wanted to reach out to. “Lord, how possible can I do this when I am not any better?” I petitioned, typical of a Christian background I had. A pen and paper I had. Like the Biblical Habakkuk, I wrote down my Dream. Today the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund has supported 30 students in primary and secondary schools and at university. It is the first scholarship scheme in Africa for survivors of gender based violence and teenage mothers.

The goal of providing access to education to millions of young people worldwide cannot be achieved by one person. It cannot be achieved singlehandedly. It should be everyone’s, especially our leaders’ responsibility to do something.

Our leaders should commit at least 20% of the national budgets to education programs, and not simply budgets, but budgets followed with concrete actions. One of the action is for the AU and EU to support the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) proposed by AU-EU Youth Plug-in Initiative Fellows to facilitate access to and completion of primary and secondary education for all children in rural areas in Africa and Europe. It is an incentive-based project, integrated with gender and girls’ rights practices that will identify and support schools in remote and hard-to-reach areas making efforts to attract and retain students, especially girls, in school.

It is also important to note that education is not a standalone. We need, for example, good governance and accountability processes to realise good education systems.

On November 29-30, leaders from Africa and Europe will gather in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, for a Summit to deliberate matters that affect peoples on both continents and indeed beyond. When individuals offer themselves to positions of responsibility and we put them in office through elections or civil service, they get the privilege of serving us. We, therefore the people that you serve, we the young people, humbly ask you to prioritize access to education because education is key to transforming lives, it matters to us, to everyone. Thank you.