Opinion:RE-Imagining Equitable Access to Quality Education
Getting an education is not just a fundamental human right, it is pivotal to the development of communities and societies. It is now well understood that education increases people’s access to employment opportunities and enhances their level of income thereby contributing to the overall development and prosperity of individuals, families, communities, and nations. In other words, providing education to people is one of the most powerful ways of breaking the cycle of poverty. Education breeds hope and engenders sustainable change.
At the same time, history teaches us that it is unlikely for any society to achieve any meaningful change and development without investing in education and providing educational opportunities to their people.
Beyond that, the provision of quality education to children reflects the commitment of families, communities, and societies to the fundamental human rights of children and their dignity. When children lack access to quality education, their ability to live to their full potential is significantly constrained and they may thus be exposed to many social ills including abuse and exploitation. Shattered or unfulfilled dreams can also lead to a general sense of hopelessness which not only constrains the progress of individual young people but of their societies more generally.
Despite this common understanding, access to quality education has remained a challenge for mostly the impoverished or underprivileged communities in Africa. The quality of education that children receive is affected to a very large degree by their environment, which is marked by lack of essential learning materials such as books, technology, and other school supplies. For children across Africa to be able to benefit from education, from basic education to higher education, these issues need to be addressed. That is, the environment must be more supportive to their education. There have been notable efforts by governments and development partners to address basic education, but higher education has not received as much attention.
The current state of African higher education
For many years there have been several prestigious universities operating on the African continent, such as the University of Cape Town (South Africa), Makarere University (Uganda), University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), University of Ibadan (Nigeria), University of Ghana and the University of Zimbabwe that continue to produce high-performing individuals who greatly contribute to society. However, these universities have faced more than their fair share of challenges.
For instance, they have limited access to technology, which means that they have been unable to adopt modern innovative approaches to teaching and learning, foster innovation and contribute to societal advancement. As a result, many of the students who study at these institutions are not supported to engage in critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, nor do they acquire the requisite broad literacy, relating to information, technology, media, and finance in a way that would make their knowledge practically useful in their societies and make them competitive in the global stage. This is a crucial gap that needs to be addressed.
Understandably, these problems will take a long time to address and will require the collaborative efforts of many stakeholders. While those wheels are beginning to turn, they are not turning fast enough. We cannot sit and wait for when they do to start addressing the challenges. We must, in the meantime, find ways of taping into the potential of some of our young students to sit at the global stage and move at the pace of the rest. In this respect, the role played by initiatives like the Kenya Scholar Access Program (KENSAP), must be acknowledged and commended. For decades, KENSAP has been providing opportunities for bright but needy African students to study abroad. So far, they have supported over 250 bright but needy Kenyan students to access quality education in some of the most prestigious universities in the world including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Since 2004, the value of university financial aid they’ve generated is more than KES 8.5 billion. Amongst the students they have supported, more than 70 have acquired post-graduate qualifications (20+ PhDs and 50+ Master’s Degrees).
As global leaders continue to ponder on how to support and accelerate access to quality education, the success of this initiative is a call to both public and private stakeholders to collaborate in order to reinvigorate focus on higher education in our society. In doing so, we must tap into our human capital, comprising of many of our people who have been educated in the leading universities in the world, such as the KENSAP beneficiaries. These are the bright lights that can illuminate our way out of the difficulties that we are facing as a society.
Dr. Kamau Wairuri is the Director of the Institute of Public Policy & Governance at the Strathmore Business School