Summit calls for more funding for R&D, education

The African Union Committee of Ten Heads of State and Government (AU-C10) Championing Education, Science and Technology in Africa has urged AU member states to meet their original commitment to allocate 1% of their gross domestic product to research and development and boost investments in education, science and technology.

In a draft declaration compiled and approved by the C10 on 3 November at the conclusion of the African Union’s first extraordinary summit for the C10, which took place in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe from 2-3 November, ministers noted with concern the underperformance of the education and research and innovation systems in African countries.

The C10 has been tasked with taking action to strengthen higher education in Africa and place science, technology and innovation at the centre of efforts to achieve the AU Agenda 2063, the continental plan for sustainable socio-economic transformation over the next 50 years. The committee comprises leaders from Senegal, Chad, Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Tunisia.

In his opening statement, AU-C10 Second Vice-chair and President of Malawi, Professor Peter Mutharika, implored the delegates from the AU’s five continental regions to ensure that young people had the opportunity to access the “right education” to ensure Africa’s progress.

Common path

“We are the leadership mandated to show our people the lighted path to the Africa we want…We have a common path to our destiny because we share a common past. We share common challenges. And we share a common goal. Our mission is to ensure that Africa has the right education for African progress.”

Mutharika said among others, African countries must promote lifelong learning opportunities for their people as well as sustainably financing education in the long term.

He called for African leaders to embrace science and technology which, he said, have their roots on the continent.

“Science is not foreign to Africa. We think of technology as an imported practice. Technology is not strange to Africa. Science and technology belong here on this continent. We are the origin of science and technology in the world.” Referring to the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859AD in Fez, Morocco and the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he said: “Even the first universities in this world started in Africa.”

Mutharika said Africa needed to use its natural resources, capital and labour to its advantage. “Labour as a factor of production will take us to African industrialisation which demands a skilled labour force. We need to cultivate scientific, technological and innovation skills.”

Agenda 2063

The summit agreed on a framework to improve progress towards Agenda 2063. In addition to securing more funding, the framework includes engaging key stakeholders and engaging with the private sector.

AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor said it was important that African countries “commit sufficient resources and adopt multi-sectorial approaches which are essential to realising the aspirations of Agenda 2063 and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals”.

She emphasised the importance of the teacher.

“It is imperative that Africa … has a renewed emphasis on the place of the teacher in the economic development of the continent. Producing well-trained teachers, who will build the human capital of the next generation of young people in Africa, is a costly venture. It requires selective, coordinated investments to optimise limited resources and create synergies across subregional groups of countries.

Professionalism in teaching

“The need to build professionalism in teaching at all levels from early childhood to university level, including technical and vocational education and training as well as non-formal education, may be the game-changer in our quest to develop our young people and ultimately our nations,” she said.

She said the involvement of the private sector was also important in achieving AU goals.

“Students exiting the education systems must graduate with skills that reflect what employers actually need. They must effectively be the talent pipeline from which our industries grow. This is only possible if the private sector is better represented on our education governance structures, the vocational training programmes, and in curriculum design.”

The Lilongwe Declaration on Education, Science and Technology is expected to be signed at the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2019.