Why Americans Should Care About Improving Education in Africa

by Liz Grossman ’05

Liz is a former teacher who is passionate about the global development of education, specializing in West Africa. She is particularly interested in the use of internet technology to improve access to and quality of education in the developing world and she has completed independent research studies on the topic in both Cameroon and Senegal. Currently, she is the External Relations Manager at Tostan Training Center in Senegal. She has a B.A. from Northwestern University in Communications Studies and International Studies, and an M. Ed from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in International Education Policy.

In my Quaker high school, George School, we were taught all of our subjects within the framework of believing the world and society can be different.  George School seeks to develop citizen scholars committed to openness in the pursuit of truth, to service and peace, and to the faithful stewardship of the earth.

The education I received, combined with the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam (healing the world), with which I was raised, as well as the never ending support from my family, friends, colleagues and classmates from all around the world, has helped me understand the urgency for us to act and think globally, with concern for all beings on the earth. Throughout my journey, I have come to the conclusion that to have that idealistic “peace on earth” all religions, cultures, and people call for, we must give everyone the tools to succeed.  This is done through education.

My life’s path has taken me to Africa, where about 65 percent of the total population is below the age of thirty-five years, Over 35 percent are between fifteen and thirty-five years old, which makes Africa the youngest continent.  According to the African Union Youth Commission, about ten million young African youth arrive each year on the labor market. Imagine the power of that workforce if everyone had basic literacy and numeracy skills, or appropriate job training relevant to the environment they are in.

I wish I could simply cite the simple, yet often idealistic, Quaker values of sharing, peace, love, healing the world, etc., to answer this question of why we need to invest in education in Africa.  Instead, I have come up with three concrete reasons why this investment will positively affect the average American.

1. Terrorism: Like we saw during the Ebola crisis, our world is interconnected and issues in Africa can have effects at home. People in Africa can communicate with those all over the world, for the good and the bad. Terrorists in Africa are being trained and inspired by groups like ISIS, seeing attacks in Paris, Bamako, and more as inspiration for new ways to harm Americans abroad. Some may say it is too late to reverse the effects of extremism in the Middle East region, but in Africa, we still have the chance to support the next generation through education and empowerment.  Increasing skills for young Africans will help them make better choices about joining extremist movements, and allow them to focus their priorities on developing their economic futures.

2. Climate change: People in Dakar these days know climate change is real, as we are living one of history’s hottest “winter” months here in Senegal. Even though Africa’s carbon footprint is smaller than the West’s, considering its rapid urban development, we are on a dangerous path to increase global warming if Africa’s development pattern is the same of that as the US and Europe. Environmental education can help awaken a generation of young and dynamic Africans to create sustainable practices and urban planning initiatives which will help mitigate pollution and thus the effects of global warming.

3. Encouraging domestic economic growth: Witney Schneidman wrote in the 2013 Brookings report entitled The Top Five Reasons Africa Should be a Priority for the United States, that increased trade and business done in Africa has the potential to add hundreds of thousands of jobs to the American economy. For this to be a success for Americans at home, their trade partners need to be savvy, intelligent, and equipped with the know how to foster an atmosphere favorable to economic growth. For us to improve our own economy, we must rely on others.

I realize as Americans we have our own priorities and our own crises to manage.  As the United States decides who will be the next president, I urge everyone to understand the complexities of our domestic problems, and how investing in others is also investing in solutions to our biggest concerns.  Of course it is important to act locally, but we must always think globally.

Check out Liz’s blog for more thoughts on education and communication in Africa.

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