UNESCO and UNICEF call for urgent action on regional learning crisis on the International Day of Education 2023

Joint statement from Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa, and Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director

23 January 2023

Nairobi / Johannesburg, 24 January 2023 – “Today we strongly urge governments across Eastern and Southern Africa to turn high-level commitments made at last September’s Transforming Education Summit (TES) into concrete action to support the millions of children waiting for their education to be prioritized.  

“We acknowledge countries progress and steady efforts to relentlessly strengthen their education systems and adjust to changing times, however the numbers are sobering; some 41 million children are out of school across Eastern and Southern Africa. For too long business as usual has prevailed, resulting in underfunded schools, underpaid and underqualified teachers, overcrowded classrooms and outdated curricula, undermining children’s ability to reach their potential.

“Not only do children need to be in school, but they need to be learning effectively when they are there. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of reading comprehension in the world: only one in ten 10-year-olds can read and understand a simple text, with children living in emergencies and protracted crises facing the highest levels of learning poverty. Children need support to catch up on learning loss, through transforming the way and how the education system reaches them: investment in teaching innovatively, curriculum reform, digital education, early years learning and psychosocial support. Primary focus must be on building children’s foundational literacy and numeracy, making sure they actually learn how to read and write so they start their learning journey independently.

“At the TES, the international community rallied around six calls to action that each carry the potential to accelerate change on this almost silent crisis. Yet if we look at the area of foundational learning – imperative for this region given the shocking data - only four countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have formally endorsed the call to action. UNESCO and UNICEF are therefore appealing to governments to stand by their commitments and chart a way forward with practical action and the required resourcing.  

“The cost of under-investment and lack of innovative approaches in education imperils our common future. We remain in a situation of colossal crisis, and one that will only be overcome by a response of equal proportion. One key action is for governments to allocate at least 20 per cent of their national budgets to education. The average allocation in the region is 16 per cent, while in fact some countries are apportioning less than three per cent. A key opportunity is next month’s African Union Summit where we hope to see Heads of States renewing their commitment to at least the minimal allocation of 20 percent to education.

“To reverse the current learning trends in the region – and to avoid the consequences of failing to educate a generation - governments must prioritise education. The skills needed to thrive in today’s economies require more of young people than ever before, but with such extreme levels of low learning, countries face a perfect storm for underachievement, unemployment and societal and economic breakdown. 

“2023 marks the mid-point since the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 must be prioritized as a key enabler to accelerate progress towards all the SDGs against the backdrop of a global recession, growing inequalities and the climate crisis.”

Media contacts

Nadia Samie-Jacobs
Communication Officer
UNICEF Africa Services Unit
Tel: +27 72 777 9399
Cynthia Meru
Communication Specialist
UNESCO Eastern Africa Region, Nairobi
Tel: +254 702562419


UNESCO contributes to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, and sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. Education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility. UNESCO works to ensure equal access to quality education for all boys and girls, throughout life everywhere in the world. Visit www.unesco.org

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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

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