Impact of PACTED III – Third Pan-African Conference

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Without teachers to guide and nurture those who pursue an education, there would be nothing but hollow institutions that collect dust just like outdated versions of textbooks.  The African Union, which has been trying to fuel a plethora of changes within Africa, has education as one of their priorities.  It is a sector of life that requires acute attention, especially during a time when globalization has brought multiple societies together in an effort to work cooperatively and exchange not only ideas, but also intellectual capital.  In order for the continent to contribute to the global community, teachers must meet the demanding standards of the top educational systems worldwide if they wish for Africa to prosper in the coming decades.  A great sense of urgency has taken hold of organizations and advocates for change and PACTED III is just one meeting where concerns were not only voiced, but deliberated upon so that new ideas can emerge into the forefront and spur concerted action that will include all of Africa instead of just certain countries or regions.

One of the first points that were addressed at PACTED III was the reminder of the goals detailed in the AU’s Second Decade of Education in Africa, dated from 2006 to 2015.  This initiative detailed a concerted plan of action to address such issues as: the development and institution of EMIS (Educational Management Information Systems) so that educational centers all over Africa can be interconnected through a network that allows for the free and easy exchange of data and ideas that would provide a better educational experience for students; raise educational standards while also striving to improve the quality of teachers as well as the materials they have for use in the classroom; ensure that equality exists in the classroom while also ensuring that each student, no matter from what background or gender, has the opportunity to study at the same level as their peers.  Although these issues have been addressed lately, they have yet to become fully realized.  That is not to say that the first few steps had not been taken, just that they are not big enough to warrant international praise.

Africa is not a barren wasteland and boasts some very resource laden regions that have become targeted by companies, particularly those from China and Russia who have built forms of economic infrastructures that temporarily benefit African countries.  In order to enjoy long term benefits and security, however, Africans must take greater strides in expanding their economic productivity by their own volition.  In order to build a strong infrastructure, one must have a workforce that is well educated so that they can meet the demands of the world population's needs.  One initiative that has been addressed at the conference was ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).Aside from creating something akin to the European Union, though on a smaller scale geographically, this organization can serve as a precursor to a continental economic union where production and cooperation is facilitated.  Should ECOWAS be successful in its mission, West African countries would undoubtedly see an improvement in living standards, GDP output, as well as improved trade relations that would streamline productivity and garner the attention of companies from other parts of the world to no longer exploit the Africans and its workforce.

ECOWAS has also striven to bring about improvements to the educational sector and have met with certain success that acts as a model for the rest of Africa.  Unfortunately, they have met with numerous hurdles and have been unable to meet the ideal standards laid out in the Second Decade of Education in Africa program.  Despite having improved gender parity in the classrooms, there is still a dominance of males as students as well as teachers, with approximately 30% of teachers being female.  There has also been a rise in the number of children who were out of school, the majority of which were female, reaching nearly 10% back in 2006.  Nevertheless, there has been a slow increase of school attendance on the primary and secondary level, though tertiary education is still struggling.

The South African Development Community (SADC), similar to ECOWAS in that they are a more regionally focused organization, have been keeping busy in the past couple of years in a number of ways.  They have held workshops where guidelines for new curriculum were discussed and possible reform was brought to the forefront.  They have also held a teacher education policy workshop in 2012 where teachers were instructed on how best to make education accessible to more children while also familiarizing themselves with the educational practices in different countries.   SADC is also looking to make Open Distance Learning (ODL) institutions, of which there are numerous in existence, more integrated with regional standards and accreditation processes while also instructing faculty members in educational procedures that reflect southern African countries current standards.  

PACTED III has also brought up the goals being implemented by the Pan African University (PAU), which is a continental higher education network responsible for: developing curriculum for graduate and postgraduates; bringing research to the forefront in an attempt to help Africa develop quickly; make African universities more appealing to international students by increasing the quality of education and making the standards more rigorous; making it easier to have students and professors interact with each other, not only on small scale, but in a way that includes the whole continent.  Raising the finances to incorporate such changes is a challenge that must be overcome and funds must be raised by becoming more involved in economic industries particularly that of technology since it will have an important effect on the development of most of the PAU's programs.

One must be aware of the complexity of African culture, especially since it is a continent that has been affected by colonial powers in the past, thus changing the landscape in such a way that a plethora of differences are in existence today.  Many countries follow different systems of education set into place by the French, British, and other European powers that have left a lasting influence ever since their efforts of colonization took place centuries ago.  The number of years necessary to complete different levels of education is not identical and thus transitions to schools in other African countries are not as streamlined and simple as they could be with a more universal system.  Furthermore, language can act as a barrier, and the opportunity for students to study in different countries might prove difficult if they are limited to the number of schools they can attend that have a medium of instruction they can work with.   Should there be a greater effort in establishing a universal language in current schools?  Or should things remain as they are?

What are some more ways that the quality of teachers could be improved in Africa, especially with all the challenges highlighted at the conference?  Is it primarily an issue of economic disparity or the turbulence of African politics where there is practically no stability in certain countries, most notably Sudan and Ethiopia?  Countries in other parts of the world have schools that are well established and have developed reputations that make students wish to flock there to earn their degrees.  Aside from a few universities in Africa, the majority have little to offer in direct competition with other institutions worldwide, especially when they are so far behind technologically and are not as ordered as their counterparts.  The educational achievements in Africa are still very minor compared to the grand scheme of things, especially when one looks at all the goals that have yet to be achieved as laid out in PACTED III.  However, there should be no sense of utter failure because progress is being made and the determination to bring Africa out of the mire burns brighter than it has in the 20th century.  Change will come so long as there is unity.

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