UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s remarks at the Transforming Education in Africa event

“I am honored to join the African Union Commission, European Commission, UNESCO and WFP in welcoming you to this important discussion. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to build brighter futures for children and young people across Africa.


“Africa is a continent undergoing rapid demographic transition, with children and young people leading the way. Today, three out of every five people in Africa are under the age of 25. By the middle of this century, Africa will be home to a billion children and adolescents, accounting for 40 per cent globally. This transformation presents both opportunities and challenges – especially in education.


“Over the last two decades, governments in Africa have made significant progress in getting more children into school. The proportion of primary school aged children not in school was halved – from 35 per cent in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2019. Over the same period, the percentage of secondary school aged children out of school fell from 63 to 53.


“This commitment to expanding access to education is clearly reflected in the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the 10-year Continental Education Strategy which aim to strengthen education systems across the continent.


“UNICEF proudly supports this work. In 2021, nearly half (or 46 per cent) of UNICEF’s programme expenditures in education went to Africa.


“Unfortunately, the global learning crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic could undo much of the progress that has been made in children’s education since 2000.


“Even before the pandemic, the continent was facing a serious learning crisis. Millions of children already lacked foundational reading skills and were excluded from learning opportunities because of poverty, gender, conflict, displacement or disability.


“The pandemic has intensified these trends. At the peak of COVID-related school closures, for example, more than 90 per cent of students in Africa had their learning disrupted.


“So, with Africa home to the world’s largest population of children and young people, the time to act to transform education in Africa is now.


“Excellencies, you have an essential role to play in reaching every child in Africa with quality education. Education has not been the AU’s annual theme for over a decade. I you to put education at the heart of the African Union Agenda by championing education as the 2023 theme.


“I also encourage you to take the lead in triggering a continental movement to transform education in Africa. This transformation can be led and owned by African Member States, with support from multi-stakeholder partnerships and youth engagement.


“Together, we can bring all school aged children in Africa back to in-person learning. This includes the millions who were not in school before the pandemic. We can also ensure that education systems have the capacity to support children with catch-up learning as well as essential services like water, sanitation and mental health support. And we need to empower teachers with refreshed skills on digital learning modalities, remediation, and socio-emotional learning.


“Excellencies, we must tackle the learning crisis through increased investment in foundational learning. If Africa’s children are equipped with solid numeracy and literacy proficiencies, they will be better positioned to obtain higher-level knowledge and skills in the future.


“We should also dedicate more funding to development and training, so that young people can learn the full range of skills needed for the 21st century. We can leverage diverse partnerships – including with the private sector – to bring innovative ideas and resources to the table.


“And critically, we must prioritize girls’ education. This includes ensuring that girls are safe in school and that they are supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue.


“We have a long way to go. But through commitments made here and at the Transforming Education Summit, we can close the investment gap in foundational learning and reignite progress for children’s education across the continent.


“Thank you.”




Source: UN Children’s Fund