The International Summit of Colleges, Universities, and Ministers of Education, held at the margins of the 74th United Nations General Assembly advocated for the advancement of quality education (Sustainable Development Goal 4) for all persons of African descent. The summit was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in collaboration with the Government of Uganda, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Primarily Black Institutions (HBCU/PBI) in America.
In a keynote address, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, emphasized the importance of investing in education towards sustainable development. While commending the continent for the massive investments at primary and secondary levels, with the share of young people in tertiary education increasing from 4 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2018, she called for more attention to be paid to quality education to ensure that Africans are well-equipped with the right skill sets, to compete in the global market. “There is no faster way to get people out of poverty or address overlapping inequalities than through equipping them with the requisite education and skill-sets to have a meaningful future”, she said.
The UNDP Africa Director deliberated on the issue of leadership in the African Diaspora and highlighted that this can be strengthened through partnership development. To this end, she announced the African Influencers for Development (AID) initiative, launched by UNDP, as being at the heart of UNDP’s new partnership strategy for Africa, to engage with African champions who are already working to drive sustainable development across the continent.
She further reflected and demonstrated the ongoing gender gap in education through a personal anecdote, telling how education and access to information, particularly for girls, can save lives. “It is therefore important to ensure equal access to quality education to all African descents to begin closing the gaps that continue to perpetuate inequalities between income, racial and geographical groups that reinforce cycles of poverty and deprivation,” she added.
Panelists at the event also underscored the need to revise the educational curricula in Africa to train students for the job market: “we need to change our educational system, nobody is going to change this for us, we must”, noted Dr. Djibril Diallo, President and CEO of African Renaissance and Diaspora Network during the panel discussion. The President of Medgar Evers College, Professor Rudolph Crew, added “we first have to confront the challenges that are ahead of us, not only in higher education but in our respective communities”.
The summit built on the collective intelligence, experience and institutional partnerships that advance access to quality education for persons of African descent. It explored ways in which technology can be harnessed to improve education outcomes and how Africa’s educational system can train young people for the job market.
As a concrete step towards achieving improved education outcomes in Africa, an MOU was signed between UNDP and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Primarily Black Institutions (HBCUs/PBIs). Amongst some of the actions, the MOU will facilitate the continuation of this summit into subsequent years; organize platforms for the exchange of development of best practices; develop and operationalize distance learning progammes between African and African Diaspora institutes of higher learning; jointly develop staff and student exchanges and internships between African and African Diaspora institutes of higher education; jointly mobilize resources for pertinent development exchanges; and share research and data on areas of common interest to the global African diaspora towards a collective achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Participants in the meeting agreed to leverage innovation and technologies to re-orientate the changing nature and focus of higher education in Africa particularly in the Sahel region where security challenges are impacting school attendance and quality of education.
The summit brought together Ministers of Education; Presidents, Vice Chancellors and Rectors of universities and representatives of governments, higher learning institutions and internal organizations from across the African continent, the Caribbean and Unites States of America to explore the opportunities offered by technological advances to harness the joint experience and knowledge of the African Diaspora.
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