“Mother, what plan do you have for his education?”. This was the first question I asked my mum when my youngest brother was born. I had learned to read and was fascinated at the world that I read about in story books. I felt that education had immense power to help me design the utopian life that I found in the books for myself. I had also sadly learned that everyone did not have automatic access to this power and I wanted mum to address my fears. Over the years, I have come face-to-face with the hard truth that the world does not have a ready answer for the more than 300,000 children that are born every day. And the situation seems to get worse by the day.
I have lived in the South-West region of Cameroon for the past ten years. This is one of the two English speaking regions that have experienced marked unrest in the past five years. Schools have been burned down and thousands of students have had to halt school. This was bad enough to realise by the end of 2017. These days, my phone is permanently silent because I cannot bear to hear which of the children got killed in a crossfire or some other mishap. Sadly, the text messages and news still carry these messages, and potently too. Perhaps these are only two regions, perhaps in only one central African country. But what happens to the future of these children? What will they become? What education are they receiving? What world view are they growing with? What commitments are they making? What will they live for? What will they die for? I am a question bank and could go on and on, but let me add to the worries first.
When COVID happened in 2019, I imagined a temporary interruption to a few activities. Then it became a global disruption and the lockdowns happened. Schools innovated and went on with e-learning using learning management systems. Resource constrained communities resorted to WhatsApp, radio and even TV lessons. As we look at the new normal, how many can really afford life in this new normal. Will the communities that cannot afford potable water let alone electricity be doubly disadvantaged in this new era? What will inclusive innovation look like in this space?
Well, this is not a standalone problem that can be solved on its own. Having worked with schools in the last five years, I understand the interconnection of education with other global challenges such as poverty, gender inequality, security and energy. It is a big problem with over 258 million out of school children. Do we have a plan for their education? I still wonder what workable plan will be.