With Financing, Digital Access, Education ‘a Driver’ of Development, Opportunity for Young Africans, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Session

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the opening of the High-Level Session of the Africa Dialogue Series 2024:  “Education through Science, Technology and Innovation towards the Africa We Want”, in New York today:

Five days ago, the world marked Africa Day — a celebration of the promise and potential of the people of the African continent.  This month’s dialogue series reminds us that unlocking that full potential depends on a key ingredient — education.

Education is a driver of African prosperity and development.  Education is an engine of opportunity for young Africans.  Education links Africans with their cultural heritage and their past, while preparing them for the future.  And education is the foundation of the science, technology and innovation-based economy Africa needs in the decades ahead.

I commend the African Union for making education its theme for 2024 — and highlighting the importance of overcoming challenges facing education systems across the continent:  a lack of investment and infrastructure; persistently unequal access to education for girls; conflicts and climate-related disasters that place education out of reach for tens of millions of children and young people across Africa; insufficient numbers of qualified teachers contributing to a crisis in foundational curricula; and teaching methods that fail to prepare students for the world of the work today — especially in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM subjects.

At the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, countries have made commitments to advance their own vision for the creation of true “learning societies” anchored in quality education and Sustainable Development Goal 4. This includes lifelong learning, closing the digital and gender divides, and supporting teachers every step of the way. The specific policy recommendations that will emerge from this dialogue are an opportunity to ensure progress in the African context.

I want to outline two areas in particular.  First — progress is impossible without dramatically scaling-up financing and investment into education systems.  African countries have made significant strides. Almost one third have reached the minimum threshold of 15 per cent of public expenditures — or four per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] — going towards education.

But investments are hampered by economic challenges — including the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, skyrocketing costs of living and an out-of-control debt crisis.  Many African countries spend more on debt servicing than on health care, infrastructure and education combined.

Meanwhile, borrowing is hindered by the outdated, dysfunctional and unfair international financial architecture.  And a lopsided and inefficient global taxation system deprives African countries of higher domestic revenues.

Last September, world leaders at the SDG Summit expressed support for an SDG Stimulus of at least $500 billion per year.  The Stimulus also calls for a debt lifeline to give developing countries some breathing room, instead of punishing repayment schedules.  And it calls for the expansion of contingency financing for countries in need, including rechannelling Special Drawing Rights.

And we also need to see multilateral development banks adjusting their business models to better leverage private finance at a reasonable cost for developing countries.  And this year, at the Summit of the Future, I expect to see concrete commitments from world leaders to fix the global financial system, once and for all.  And this must include ensuring greater African representation across all systems and institutions — including all aspects of the global financial system.

Coupled with strong domestic resource mobilization systems, these are opportunities for African countries to dramatically increase investment in education in the coming years.

I also urge support from donor countries and multilateral development banks for the International Finance Facility for Education, launched at the Transforming Education Summit.  It’s time to deliver on the potential of this Facility and mobilize $10 billion to help 700 million children access quality education across lower-middle income countries.

Second, African education systems must be anchored in science, technology, engineering and math.  Getting more children into school is not enough.  African students — like students everywhere — need the skills and knowledge to compete in the modern global economy.

STEM subjects are critical — from agriculture and manufacturing to service delivery, to every aspect of businesses large and small, to the renewable green energy revolution taking root across Africa.

Digital skills are a good example.  The International Financial Corporation estimates that over 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030. As we transform what students learn, we also need to transform how they learn.  Digital technology offers a limitless platform to deliver education to learners, no matter where they live.

It’s also an opportunity to scale-up education for the tens of millions of school-aged children in Africa whose education is disrupted by crises like conflicts and natural disasters.  Unlocking these benefits means overcoming a huge barrier — the fact that only 36 per cent of Africans have access to broadband connectivity.

I urge countries to work with technology companies and internet service providers — and the UN’s GIGA initiative — to provide universal, high-speed connectivity and devices for every learner.  It’s time to close the digital divide and to mobilize the financial resources by the international community to make it possible.

These issues and much more will be front-and-centre at key UN convenings in Paris, New York and Brazil this year, aimed at accelerating progress towards SDG4 between now and 2030.  They will also be central to this September’s Summit of the Future.

I have invited all world leaders to attend, and it is especially critical that African leaders bring their ideas and solutions, including around education.  The “Africa We Want” must be supported by the education systems Africa needs.  And I will continue standing with Africa across this essential work.  And I thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.