Why Foundational Learning Matters for Africa’s Year of Education in 2024

The Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Government of Zambia, through the Ministry of Education, held the 2023 High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum (HLDF) on Foundational Learning in Lusaka in late October/early November. It was a well-attended conference that convened the who-is-who on foundational learning (FL) in Africa. A total of 375 participants attended the event, 205 of whom were physically present, including 11 Ministers in charge of education and nine ministerial representatives. A further 170 persons joined virtually.

Education stakeholders reviewed the progress of FL commitments made at the Transforming Education Summit in New York and the ADEA 2022 Triennale in Mauritius. These two fora brought the FL learning crisis in Africa to greater global consciousness. Hence, African political leaders at these events made promises to take action to reverse learning loss, build resilient educational systems, and address learning poverty in Africa. At the Lusaka Forum, it was critical to leverage the opportunity to understand what has worked and capture and share lessons with other countries and education actors on working initiatives that may be scaled. The Forum was also a viable space to encourage greater national ownership of FL goals while transitioning from crisis conversation to concrete actions. A key feature of the Forum was the school visits, which allowed participants to experience ongoing classroom initiatives aimed at improving FL, such as Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) and structured pedagogy. 

One thing was clear, awareness continues to grow on what is required to address FL issues in Africa. The agreement made to collaborate and prioritize FL is evidence of this growing awareness. There is also a growing call to focus on successful and working interventions that underscore the workability of the issues with which Africa grapples on foundational learning. Hence, we should not just focus on the issues and challenges. We must also showcase solutions addressing these challenges and where they have worked. This much can be gleaned from the ministerial communique issued at the end of the Forum, with five critical resolutions to champion the salience of FL. 

The first resolution focused on developing and adopting a starter pack model for foundational learning as a resource guide to ensure uniformity, continuity, and sustainability. The second resolution underscores the value of voice and influence, with the agreement to encourage Heads of State to be “Champions of Foundational Learning.” This will help to create visibility on the importance of FL, leading up to the 2024 Year of Education for Africa (2024 AU-YoE).

Resolution three puts the focus on the value of data-driven decision-making and the need to build country-level capacity, and adopt it as a way of working, in producing and using quality data for policy, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Participants agreed that it was valuable for countries to work with ADEA and partners to collect relevant data to inform policy and decisions on foundational learning and foster dialogue, peer learning, and sharing of good practices on what works to further FL, in line with the 2024YoE. This is also the reason why the 2024 will focus a lot on capturing and sharing lessons on what works while pushing hard for FL to get more resource support. 

In the fourth resolution, policymakers agreed to strengthen links between Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Early Grade Education (EGE) and advance the adoption of structured pedagogy and age-appropriate and level-appropriate teaching methods. ECE contributes to the holistic development of the children’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development, contributing to their school readiness and, ultimately, lifelong learning and well-being. 

Building resilience requires new skills and capacities, including integrating technologies that support teaching and learning. The fifth resolution therefore puts the spotlight on the value of technology in education, especially contributing to improved teacher training and professional development in Africa. The Ministers and ministerial representatives agreed to harness the power of technology to increase the number of qualified teachers and enhance their well-being. This is responding to a critical gap raised by several studies – including an ADEA study on the Use of ICT in Education and Remote Learning – on integrating technology in education. It demonstrates that teacher capacity to deliver technology-mediated teaching is a major gap in multiple countries. 

African Heads of State and Government have set aside 2024 as the Year of Education for the continent. It is considered a period of heightened advocacy for increased investment and commitment to education. The Specialized Committee on Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation of the African Union (AU STC-ESTI) has assumed ownership by approving the roadmap towards the formal launch of the year in February 2024, with plans to support activities during the year. The second strategic outcomes in the roadmap focusses on improving foundational learning and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) while some of the strategic outcomes are linked to foundational learning. This makes it a central theme for the advocacy and aligns with the role of foundational learning as the base for any achievement in life. Therefore, it is easy to see why FL is central to all education-related initiatives for the 2024YoE. 

For ADEA, we believe it is beneficial to our stakeholders, including ADEA member countries, to operationalize the resolutions in the communique during the 2024YoE and beyond. Countries will benefit from implementing each resolution as they seek to find the magic bullet that helps reverse learning loss, improve FL learning outcomes, and address learning poverty. 

To ensure we do not lose sight of the issue as we know it, the ADEA/UNESCO-GEM-R Spotlight Report on FL puts learning poverty in Africa at nearly 90 percent. It implies that 9 out of 10 children under ten years cannot read a simple text. Our goal is to reverse this trend by improving the numbers and ensuring that we consistently work to brighten the future of Africa’s young ones. This should be the central focus during the Year of Education and beyond.