Opening remarks by Commissioner Urpilainen at High-Level meeting on “Reimagining Education in Africa”, side event by African Union and UNICEF at the 76th United Nations General Assembly  - 20/09/2021

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Distinguished Guests,

It is a pleasure to see so many partners coming together today to reimagine education in Africa. Human capital and education are key elements in our Africa strategy that we presented in the spring 2020.

Two days after we presented the strategy, COVID-19 was declared as pandemic. Its impact on education has been grave.

When Covid-19 forced schools to close their doors, students in Europe turned to online learning. Most African students did not have that option. Countless students dropped out of school and began working. Child labour is rising.

COVID-19 has compounded the learning crisis in Africa, leaving 260 million students without education. Today, the pandemic threatens to reverse decades of progress in Africa. We cannot let that happen.

Like the African Union and UNICEF, the European Union believes that people are our greatest resource. Team Europe, EU and its member states as well as the financial institutions stand firmly behind this truth.

At the “Building Skills for the Future” event, we agreed that equipping students with the skills necessary to thrive in a changing world requires both innovation and strong partnerships. We launched our partnership on education.

First, to promote access to quality education, the EU will invest heavily in teacher quality. As a former teacher myself, I understand the critical role teachers play.

Without proper investment, management, training and continuous professional development, it is not possible to provide students with the foundational skills they need.

Second, the EU is committed to innovative approaches to promote inclusion and equity in access to education. We must leverage the opportunities of digital innovations to reach girls and other underrepresented groups.

They need to learn the science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) that the labour market demands. For instance, in Mozambique, the ‘E-YOUTH’ Initiative will support girls to enter STEM fields of study.

And third, we must link education to the job market. During the next 15 years, more than 400 million young Africans will enter the labour market. This represents an enormous challenge for decent job creation.

But it also has the potential to transform the continent for the better. To unleash this potential, we need investment in human capital and skills.

At my urging, the EU has increased funding for education to at least 10% of our external budget – including in Africa.

This funding is critical supporting African teachers and equipping them with valuable skills, as well as investing in higher education and vocational institutions to help youth prepare for the green and the digital transitions.

The key to making all of these solutions succeed is political will. Partnerships must play an important role as we share these aspirations on the multilateral fora. So together, we must join forces with members of civil society, the private sector, and global education partners.

In July, Team Europe pledged EUR 1.7 billion to the Global Partnership for Education.

The coming months will be crucial to forge deeper relationships between Africa and the EU ahead of the 6th EU-AU Summit.

We can turn the great challenges facing us into solutions.

But we will only succeed on one condition: human development, and especially education, is at the centre of our partnership.

Thank you!