Reflections on Higher Education in Africa

11 Jul

The article naming Jolandie Rust as Huffington Post’s ‘Greatest Person of the Day’  was a great kick-start to Jolandie’s tour as she heads back to Namibia tonight to continue onwards on her Cycle for Education. Jolandie’s trip – as we are all agreed – is a challenge that will present physical and mental obstacles for Jolandie along the way, but it is an important journey that will highlight the Iduka’s cause of higher education in Africa.

Jolandie on her Cycle for Education Tour

Some of the comments posted in response to the HuffPost article however, were a little disappointing and, frankly, narrow-minded to say the least. Unfortunately there are many individuals in this world who are not able to expand their world view and embrace positive humanitarian actions when they are faced with them. Moreover, such people often cite false stereotypes in defence of their arguments. I think it is important to challenge these misconceptions about Africa, and about Jolandie’s tour, head on. It is also crucial to look behind the act of Jolandie’s Cycle Tour of Africa, and embrace the rich opportunities that higher education can offer African peoples.

Firstly, Africa is a vibrant continent, combining cultural diversity with warmth and welcoming spirit… Each country offers inspiration and opportunity in unique ways.

  • Jolandie has experienced spontaneous acts of kindness from strangers throughout her journey so far already, even though it is still so early in the tour. On her way to Windhoek, Namibia, a stranger by the name of Raymond Spall made sure Jolandie had a hot cup of Milo waiting for her at a pit stop along the way.
  • In terms of education opportunities, inclusive organisations are inspirational gems. The Undugu Society of Kenya (a country yet to be travelled by Jolandie) has been empowering deaf children and young people from the slums and streets of Nairobi since 2008. These deaf children and young people have enjoyed increased opportunities with such an organisation, including: accessible primary education with their peers, advocacy skills, and widespread integration (as they can teach their friends and teachers how to sign).

Iduka wants to build on these important foundational levels of education and increase opportunities for these disadvantaged youths in higher education.

Hot cup of Milo from Raymond Spall

Also, it is undeniable that Africa is a continent that has faced its share of conflict… but which continent hasn’t?

It is important for high-profile figures like Jolandie, organisations like Iduka and Undugu, humanitarian individuals like Iduka’s volunteers, and – most importantly – students like Iduka’s scholarship recipients, to continue to champion unity, education and equal opportunity. Crucially, it is these sorts of individuals that make up the majority of Africa’s population – kind, intelligent individuals that care about the educational development of their continent.

  • One of Iduka’s scholarship students, Neville Albert, is a keen film-maker and has been involved in film projects that have highlighted the plight of disadvantaged individuals in Nairobi. Neville continues to work on ground-breaking film projects for Iduka – an African student championing African causes.
  • Iduka’s in-country partners Kisima of Kenya (led by John Ndegwa) and AID-SL of Sierra Leone (led by Sylvanus Marray) are dedicated local organisations that promote education and equal opportunity in their respective localities. Such organisations spring out of the care and compassion of their creators.

    John with a Kismia volunteer

     

    Sylvanus with AID-SL students

Furthermore, Higher Education is a building block that will help make countries strong and nations great. It is not a lack of will or educational apathy that has prevented higher education expansion in Africa, it is simply down to a lack of opportunity.

  • This fundamental difference is what drives inequality in each country and stifles the development of all nations (even in the UK, 15% of boys in the lowest socio-economic bracket do not attain the qualifications required to attend higher education. Such low attainment contributes to wider economic disparity between the rich and poor).
  • Lack of opportunity has severe consequences. Studies have shown that mortality is highest among children born to illiterate mothers and illiterate fathers.
  • Jolandie herself was unable to pursue a future in higher education in South Africa as it was unaffordable for her family – this is an opportunity-limiting factor that Jolandie is fiercely campaigning against in her Cycle for Education with Iduka.
  • Importantly though, success stories are plentiful and increasing. In March of this year Somali-civilsociety.org reported that Somalian women in increasing numbers are being allowed to stay in school until their late teens. One of these school success stories is that of Harfo Primary School run by Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development or GECPD, a local NGO. Iduka, with its ever increasing number of volunteers, partners and student applications, is another one of these success stories. Opportunities ARE increasing, and it is down to individuals to be part of this change.

Of course this list of African educational achievements and future targets is not exhaustive – with a continent so diverse I don’t think any list or one article will encapsulate what it really means to follow education in Africa. Nonetheless, it is vital to keep celebrating successes, challenging inequalities, and opening opportunities in whatever way possible – and this should all be done with a positive attitude!

 

Students enjoying a class in Kenya

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