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"258 million African kids don’t go to school; technology can change that"

By Yariv Cohen, Ignite Investment Partners. Published in The New Times

After many years of building and leading companies in the field of sustainable development across Africa, I have been through a long list of exciting moments. But this week was undoubtedly one of the highlights - all thanks to professional cyclists and the amazing children of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

So much has been said and written about the steps needed to lead Africa to a more inclusive future, and yet, there is so much more to do. Despite vast efforts and resources invested, hundreds of millions of people still live without access to the most basic services, and the gaps between the poorest families (the “base of the pyramid”) and the rest of society not only remains, but grows deeper, affecting each and every sector and hindering potential for development and prosperity.

The most significant sector for the future, the one that perpetuates the gaps and establishes them decades ahead, is the field of education. With hundreds of millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa not going to school or receiving education of insufficient quality, the chances of successfully escaping poverty decreases, and so do the chances of substantial social change and widespread regional economic growth.

According to a special UNESCO report, 258 Million African children are not going to school - the highest rate in the world. According to current estimates, over 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and one-third between the ages of 12 and 14 are out of school. The situation worsens between the ages of 15 and 17,  with 60% of children not in school. The problem also affects gender equality, as girls are much more likely to stay uneducated.

But the problems do not end at the school gates, as hundreds of millions of children who are in school do not always receive high quality education. According to another report by UNESCO, only 25 per cent of pre-primary teachers in the SSA region are well trained.

Without proper access to quality education, millions are affected severely at the very start of their lives. The effects of a lack of quality education go far beyond the economic or employment spheres: according to different studies, if every girl in sub-Saharan Africa completed even just primary education, the maternal mortality rate would likely decrease by 70 per cent.

This reality must change. Closing the gaps in education is not only the right thing to do: it is also a common interest of all of us, governments, organizations and companies, and is necessary in leading the entire region to a more sustainable, and prosperous future.

Values lead the way

Access to high-quality education is not just access to advanced teaching methods or well-trained teachers. All of these are important (and even critical) to success, but there are other crucial elements in education and one of them is cultivating proper values.

 Last week the athletes of the Ignite-Benediction Cycling Team visited the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, teaching and mentoring the children while explaining the values that are so characteristic of the sport, including perseverance, sacrifice, hard work and a lot of self-discipline. The goal was not only to make the children happy, but to inspire them, planting a seed that will, hopefully, grow and lead the children to a better future. 

The visit of the athletes culminates in a particularly challenging period for the entire field of education, especially in Africa. If the undeveloped infrastructures were not a big enough challenge, the spread of the Covid-19 virus throughout the continent and the lockdowns made the situation even more complicated. And as always, the weakest communities are impacted the hardest.

The lockdown policy has left millions of children at home for long periods without access to any kind of pedagogic/educational content. In addition, many children from poor families were forced to leave school and go to work to help the family during the economic crisis. The big concern is about what next to come: according to many estimates, the chances of a child leaving school to support the family to re-join in the future are particularly small. Without access to quality content from home, the gaps between those underserved communities and the rest of the country will only grow further.

To help those children and millions more, Ignite has announced a strategic partnership with Spacecom, a leading provider of satellite-based communications solutions, to connect customers in remote communities to the Internet for the first time ever. With an internet connection, children everywhere will enjoy access to quality educational content. In addition, the advanced communication solutions will be assimilated in schools, allowing millions of students access to advanced content.

The education sector needs every help possible. The impact of tech solutions, as well as athletes cultivating certain values, is tremendous, not only on children’s lives, but on Africa as a whole: only by improving the education sector, improving access to knowledge and educating children for values, can we support underserved families and communities, and lead the entire region to a more prosperous future.

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