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Speeches & TranscriptsJuly 26, 2023

Opening Remarks by Victoria Kwakwa at the Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit

EVENT | JULY 25-26, 2023
Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit

Good morning and warm greetings to all of you. It is a great pleasure and honor to be gathered here together at the inaugural Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit.

I want to thank President Samia Suluhu Hassan and the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania for their gracious hospitality in hosting this summit – in partnership with the World Bank. I also want to thank Your Excellencies for coming together to support building a coalition and adopting a consensus on human capital in Africa.

We are here with a common and urgent concern, and a common sense of responsibility.

Africa is facing a serious human capital crisis. Even before the pandemic, a child born in Sub-Saharan Africa could expect to be only 40% as productive as she would be with full education and full health. An intuitive indicator of the crisis is the learning poverty rate, which measures the share of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 89% of children are learning poor. This means that almost 9 out of every 10 children are not acquiring the foundational literacy required for further learning.

It is no surprise then that for education alone, at the midpoint of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are seriously off track.

Some indicators, such as primary school completion, which has increased from 46% in 2000 to nearly 64% in 2021, and youth literacy, which stands at nearly 78% as of 2021, have the potential for recovery. However, others, such as access to quality early childhood development and preschool for all, which stands at about 50%, will need a significant and concerted effort to be achieved.

This summit is an important opportunity to come together to discuss what we can do to improve human capital outcomes and achieve results at scale. For African nations, the cost of inaction will be extremely high and potentially destabilizing. Without navigating this human capital crisis successfully, African societies and economies risk being trapped in a detrimental cycle of stagnant growth, soaring poverty rates, and increasing inequality. This situation could potentially escalate the drivers of fragility and conflict as uneducated and low-skilled youth grow increasingly disillusioned.

There is a lot at stake for the global community. By 2050, Africa will represent almost 40% of the children (0-14 years) and a quarter of the working- age population in the world. Improvements in Africa mean improvements for the world.

Improving human capital is not for the faint of heart or the impatient. If you allow me to be blunt, human capital is less visible than building a road and requires a longer-term investment. Yet, when we are successful, we transform the lives of generations of children and youth. And the economic return is even higher!

Change is possible. During this crisis, we have already experienced success and huge potential. The following examples are not exhaustive but illustrate that progress is possible:

  • On the early years, countries like Rwanda are among the few to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target on Malnutrition. It was done through efforts that included an innovative Early Childhood Development intervention, a combination of home-based and communitybased modalities. Rwanda dramatically increased its access to early childhood servicesin only two years: from 17% in 2020 to 62% in 2022. The stunting rate is also coming down.
  • When it comes to learning outcomes, Kenya stands as a testament to the power of steadfast commitment to challenging reforms (ranging from curriculum development, provision of textbooks, and effective teacher management). Over the course of many years, through consistency and focus, the country has experienced a decade of substantial progress in learning including a 50% improvement in reading.
  • In Africa, teachersalaries account for more than two thirds of government spending in education. Edo State in Nigeria sets a good example of how to increase efficiency of spending. Leveraging technology and privatesector partnerships, an innovative program equips teachers with tablets and scripted lessons for real-time progress tracking and continuous improvement. An extensive monitoring system fine-tunes resource allocation and has boosted teacher’s attendance rates dramatically to 83 percent. Edo demonstrates that, even on limited budgets, education can deliver maximum value by efficiently harnessing teachers' potential.
  • Innovations through partnerships across sectors have also enabled and accelerated the pace of change. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), increased financing for education and partnership with non-state providers reduced the cost of education and resulted in 3.7 million additional students enrolled in public primary schools.
  • Empowerment of women and girls is critical for human capital. Zambia shows us how to use social protection programs to protect the human capital of girls. They mitigated the effects of the rising food prices through cash transfers provided through digital payments that enabled 59,000 girls to access secondary education. And we know that representation matters. The 20 member countries participating in the Africa Centers of Excellence initiative across SSA share our commitment to creating a network of women leaders and innovators in STEAM and education fields.
  • Under the leadership of our host, President Samia, Tanzania has also made enormous strides in ensuring that every child, and particularly adolescent mothers, can complete secondary schooling. The country is tackling this challenge in a holistic and coherent way. They are preventing dropout by expanding the school network and implementing an innovative safe schools' program. At the same time, their new continuation policy is opening the doors of the formal education system to students who have already dropped out and young mothers. As a result, between 2018 and 2022, the number of girls enrolled in (lower) secondary school increased by 400,000 students equivalent to a 35% increase in enrolment.

Achieving the transformational changes urgently needed in our education systems will require far greater funding. SSA countries currently spend about PPP$ 280 for every primary school student compared to PPP$ 1,500 in middle-income countries and PPP$ 8,400 in high-income countries. These large differences show that no country in SSA is likely to effectively address the growing demand for education without significantly increasing their investments in human capital. However, more financing will not solve the problems at hand, unless enhanced with efficiency and effectiveness.

Education systems need to use the resources they get much more effectively. Given that teacher salaries are normally the biggest component of education spending, reforms that make teachers more effective are key to improving the overall efficiency of the sector. Systems need to reward teachers that improve and sustain better teaching practices. The education sector also needs to tackle low teacher motivation and high rates of absenteeism. Having more than 15% of teachers absent from school or not teaching in SSA is unacceptable. Beyond this, Ministries of Education need to build their capacity to deploy teachers equitably, ensure they have the teaching and learning materials they need to do their jobs effectively and provide the support they need to improve their teaching skills. Tackling these challenges successfully will improve sector efficiency and are just as critical as mobilizing more funding if national and continental goals for education are to be met.

As a development partner, we at the World Bank stand with you at this time of human capital crisis. In addition to the Africa Human Capital Plan launched in 2019, we have prepared a new strategy for education in Western and Central Africa and are working on an operational business plan for the Eastern and Southern African countries. We have also increased our financing for human capital. In education alone, our current portfolio exceeds 11 billion dollars. And our commitment to education spans across sectors, including interventions in health, social protection, water and sanitation, transportation and other sectors that contribute to improving access and quality of schooling for all.

Nevertheless, it is your national strategies, ideas, and financing that are the foundation for future progress. It is essential that we formulate a clear and actionable plan that explicitly outlines what it will take to achieve the goals.

To make progress, we must break the silos and foster collaboration among all stakeholders. We need to develop a platform for action that transcends sectoral boundaries, and unites government agencies, domestic partners, and external allies, including the pivotal private sector. This is why events like this one provide a critical opportunity for cooperation and collaboration.

Over the last two days we heard so many creative ideas and inspirational examples of what can be done to accelerate progress on building human capital. We need to capitalize on the wealth of local ideas and solution to address the human capital challenges in Africa. We at the World Bank would like to convene a team of African experts and policy makers to find and propose new ideas and solutions. We would work with regional bodies, individual governments, and our development partners to strengthen and sustain this team, and provide global knowledge from other regions to plan and deliver tangible solutions at scale, accelerating progress in human capital development.

With political will, and leadership and commitment from the highest level, we can together achieve our vision. With our collective leadership to make human capital the cornerstone of our countries’ development strategies. I am confident that we will build strong coalitions and allocate the needed resources to ensure a bright future for Africa. A future where all girls and boys reach their full potential- grow up well-nourished and ready to learn, attain real learning in the classroom and enter the job market as healthy, skilled, and productive adults.

There is no more time to waste.


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