Education: Key to Capacity-Building in Africa

By Jules Harvey, Vice President, West Africa Products
ChevronTexaco Corporation

Leon H. Sullivan Summit

Abuja, Nigeria

It is indeed a pleasure to be here today to share ChevronTexaco's views on the importance of education in Africa as a key ingredient of building the continent's human capacity. This is something Leon Sullivan knew very well. His vision was that of a fully developed human being, empowered by education, who as a consequence contributes to the development of his society. He championed human rights and worked for the elimination of all forms of marginalization in society which prevented an individual from achieving full potential. Education is and remains the principal means of achieving this vision.

In this discourse, I will attempt to highlight the key challenges of education in Africa by identifying obstacles which hinder progress in educational development, reflect on current responses by governments to these challenges and discuss a few current education initiatives that could help break through these barriers.

Obstacles which hinder education include those of access, completion and retention. They also include obstacles in the quality of education and those which arise as a result of lack of relevance of curricula. These issues are interrelated and are intensified by the worsening poverty levels and conflict situations on the continent and inadequate funding by governments.

Access to education is a key concern. The underlying causes can be traced to severe shortage or complete absence of schools as well as difficulties with teacher supply. When one probes further into the problem of access, one uncovers disparities with regard to location as well as gender. Limited access is more pronounced in rural areas and is further compounded by rural poverty. The full impact of the geographical disparity on access is better appreciated against the background that about 60 percent of the population resides in rural areas. Applying technology to this issue through distance learning efforts has become one solution to bringing educational resources to remote locations.

One new program that we are very excited about is a new alliance with the Discovery Channel's Global Education Fund in Angola. This initiative brings education to rural areas using solar electricity and applied new information technology. We think the use of information technology can help bring Africa's education programs more up to date in the digital age.

Another concern in both rural and urban locations is the societal gender differences in simply having access to education -- with disparities of up to 40 percent in favor of boys. A major challenge in the education sector is therefore how to deal effectively with access and gender equity. One initiative meant to address the issue of access is my company's partnership with the National Youth Service Corps Secretariat (NYSC).

NYSC instituted a program which provides on a continuous basis qualified teachers to teach English, mathematics and the sciences in community schools close to our field operations. The primary motive was to deal with teacher supply. However, one unexpected benefit was that girls within those communities began to see the female teachers as role models; that resulted in a significant increase in female enrollment, retention and completion rates.

Apart from access and equity, another key education issue is that of educational quality. Quality education is conceptualized as education which develops the mind, instills problem-solving skills and the ability to think creatively. Quality schools are characterized by good-quality teachers, quality instruction and a good evaluation system. The challenge for African education is how to arrive at progressive improvements in teaching/learning interaction through improved teacher training, proper motivation of the education work force, relevant textbooks and other education materials.

The issue of adequate funding cannot be overemphasized, as funding remains the bedrock of success in any of the essential initiatives that we have talked about. To ensure successful implementation and sustainability of educational programs, African countries would need to devote a proportionately significant portion of their annual budgets to education -- to fund payment of teacher's salaries and to procure current and relevant equipment and teaching aids.

Closely related to educational quality is the issue of relevance of curricula to Africa's developmental needs. As Africa stabilizes in the 21st century, there is an urgent and crucial need for a skilled labor force that would transform the vast natural endowments of the continent into tangible benefits of development. Lessons learned from developed economies show that curriculum relevance is key here. This would ensure that future generations acquire the know-whats, know-hows and know-whys necessary to transform the economy.

On the issue of curriculum relevance, I'm particularly proud of the collaboration between ChevronTexaco, Nigeria Opportunities Industrialization Center (NOIC) and International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH) in the Western Niger Delta region of Nigeria. As a way of ensuring employment for the youth in our host communities in the Niger Delta, the company in 1997 instituted a Technical Skills Acquisition Program. Under this program, which is run by the NOIC, youth from the company's host communities are trained in required vocational skills. Because these skills address specific needs in the region, the program was able to empower community youth and prepare them to contribute more meaningfully to the growth and development of their communities through gainful employment or as employers. About 500 community youths have acquired skills training under the NOIC and IFESH programs.

I am aware that efforts are ongoing to address some of these issues in education. Most African governments are signatories to protocols, such as the Educational for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG), documents that seek to provide education for all and stress the elimination of all forms of disparity in access. There has been rapid expansion of teaching facilities at all levels, and programs to improve quality and motivation of teaching staff have been initiated. Many have launched programs aimed at ensuring access of all children to basic education. However, effects have been slow, sporadic and not sustained.

ChevronTexaco believes that education for capacity-building needs the engagement of a multiplicity of stakeholders, including nongovernment organizations (NGOs), the private sector and communities. This partnership, this forging of alliances, will help leverage available resources, intensify community mobilization and establish the much needed synergies with other sectors and crucial links between education and the economy.

For many years, ChevronTexaco, in an effort to contribute toward the development of education in countries where it has operations, invested heavily in providing classroom blocks, laboratories, teachers' quarters, instructional materials as well as scholarships. These investments have certainly helped education but reaching even more communities will require the focus and support of larger partnerships. Now at ChevronTexaco, we are focusing on partnerships and alliances that will provide broader education initiatives that break through various societal barriers in countries where we operate.

Let me provide a few examples. In the Niger Delta, ChevronTexaco, USAID and the Academy for Educational Development (AED) are collaborating on a $2 million project to improve basic education. In Angola, we are partnering with the country's Education Ministry and the Cabinda Province Education Department to improve education quality from elementary through high school. In the Republic of the Congo, the company recently completed a $2 million reconstruction project at the country's only university in Brazzaville, helping to ensure the future of the country's manpower development.

While I do not intend to give you a litany of ChevronTexaco's considerable support programs which we are very proud of, I however want to state we at ChevronTexaco believe that beyond all the challenges listed — namely access, equity, quality and relevance — are the challenges of political will, leadership and vision. These are values and virtues that Leon Sullivan epitomized. It is only with all stakeholders working together to accept and confront these challenges that we can ensure our various investments in education will bring about sustainable human and economic development in Africa.

Thank you.

Updated: July 2003