Remarkable Resilience: Educating Africa in a Pandemic

By James Johnson

The full force of the pandemic has been felt across the globe. Countries are battling for vaccines and resources to provide safety across many nations,  but in this united battle, many were left behind. African nations have been hit the hardest by covid, with a lack of support from the rest of the world.

That being said, there is hope.

Education in some African countries has survived, rather bloomed despite the pressure of global change. This is the prevailing story of why there is still hope for economic prosperity in the future. Caution still looms as African nations are battling to provide an education capable of generating economic progression, with a fifth of children still not receiving an education[1]. Despite this, many African countries are on track to achieving the SDG of quality education by 2030, but in what sense is the education of ‘quality’.

Let’s take a closer look.

Kenya, hit hard by the pandemic, has approached covid remarkably well, pushing the boundaries of development by increasing the number of students in secondary schools by 8% from 2019 to 2020. This roaring success is courtesy of the coordination of the Kenyan government, along with external organisations providing the framework through the delivery of resources. UNICEF provided 10,000 solar-powered radios to Kenyan families to assist them with learning over the pandemic, whilst distributing 700,000 masks to ensure students could get back to school safely[2]. Two simple but effective techniques minimised the lag between the transition from school to home, then swiftly back to school within 3 months of closure. Meanwhile, the now-former education secretary was implementing a problematic plan to award children with grades through a postcode lottery, which obviously proved unsuccessful. Consequently, Kenya took the approach to move school kids back a year to make up for the loss of learning.

In many schools around the world the response to covid was slower than Kenya’s, despite some having access to providing a child with a computer to enhance their online learning experience. But why is Kenya’s educational success not yet correlating to success in terms of development? One of the problems is the low take-up of tertiary education.Whilst the rate of education of secondary school pupils is at an all-time high, there is a lack of transfer into degree studies, with only 3.5% of the Kenyan population obtaining this[3], minuscule compared to developed western nations. This may be because traditionally Kenyans will seek work after finishing a period of study that will allow them to make money quickly. This in turn helps them to support their family. This barrier could be broken by subsiding tertiary education costs, encouraging people to stay rather than leave, therefore rewarding themselves with higher wages in the future.

As a solution to this problem some non-profit organisations offer degrees at a fraction of a cost within Kenya, something that could be funded by external agencies in order to satisfy future economic development. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case, with many nations arriving in Africa solely to exploit their natural resources, merely justifying themselves by building basic infrastructure in return. Investment is less reflective of developing education, the key to the economic success of a country.

There have been efforts to help improve access to higher education made by UK based exam board ‘The Institute of Commercial Management’ (ICM). They work to provide accessible qualifications up to degree level in numerous African nations at a much smaller cost than the current cost of equivalent degrees . If the government were able to provide increased investment into this sector, there would be growth into the future which would help families to provide the future generations with a sense of opportunity. The UN SDG report of 2020 has highlighted the intensity of the impact on the pandemic to those living in developing nations primarily in Africa. World trade could plunge by 13-32%, foreign direct investment will decline by up to 40%, and most critically remittances will fall by 20%[4]. This will only make it more challenging for families to send their children to school ,due to the reliance on younger members to produce an income to support the rest of the family further intensified by the lack of support by governments that should understand this key aspect to economic development.

At present, unemployment is on the rise in Kenya, as teenagers and young adults are scrambling to find work to support their extended families, commented on by Kevin Osundwa, ICM Development and Delivery Coordinator. The “lack of employment opportunity” facing those with and without access to higher education qualifications has been the wall to Kenya’s, and the majority of Africa’s development. Although education is important, Kevin also values a strong “industrialisation set up, security and talent investment” as key indicators of development, and says that coordinating these together is an integral part of achieving economic prosperity. But the slow uptake in innovation is what restricts the development of African Nations. Workers are encouraged into self-employment by the government, leaving the population with a lack of support and a framework to succeed in the job market[5]. This is telling of a manual laboured population, typically in the agricultural industry.

From interviewing Kevin, it is clear that a unitive, cohesive approach is necessary to help get over that development wall, something we should be working hard to achieve. We have seen time and time again the strategies implemented by western countries to adhere to the development of low-income countries. But now, more than ever, we are noticing the importance of providing this opportunity to help African nations to get on the path they need to support the future of their populations. Kenya’s economic growth rate is thriving again after being hit by the pandemic, reporting a 9.9% GDP growth rate in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same time in 2020[6], hopefully alluding toa positive economic future for the county in the years to come.

Kenya’s success in this aspect is an individual.

Many African nations aren’t following in the same path, being hit hard by the pandemic it has been difficult for their economies to recover. This is solidified by the fact that the top 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita are all African nations[7]. African nations are left with a tough asking, as these countries are also  affected by climate change and civil unrest, meaning that it will be harder for the population to break the mould into an economically valuable future. Kenya has shown outstanding resilience to the pandemic, despite the lack of support from western nations. Now there is a sense of control to be taken in the development of these nations, but in what time do they have to do this? The next ten years will be crucial for low-income developing countries as they strive to escape this economic hole, which leaves them even more vulnerable to global change in the years to come.

“The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.”

Image Source: Camps International


1 Education in Africa | UNESCO UIS

2 Education | UNICEF Kenya     

3 Kenya: university enrollment 2017-2021

4 The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020

5 ICM interview with kevin osundwa from the ICM

Kenya GDP Annual Growth Rate  

World’s Top 10 Poorest Countries with Lowest GDP per Capita

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