Making Education in Africa Fit for the 21st Century

Resource Type

Transforming African education systems to equip the current and future generations with 21st century skills is critical. The African Union’s Year of Education 2024 is therefore a historic moment to put education at the forefront of the policy agenda.

This blog was originally posted on, on February 15, 2024,  by Julie Mwabe, GPE Secretariat, and Hiba Elamin Omer, GPE Secretariat.

A group of students works together at a table
A group of students works together at Hidassie School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Credit: GPE/Midastouch


Africa has made meaningful progress in education over the past 60 years, with more girls in school and more students in tertiary education than ever before.

School completion rates have increased from 2000 to 2022 at all levels: from 52% to 69% in primary, 35% to 50% in lower secondary and from 23% to 33% in upper secondary.

Still, these gains are insufficient to prepare Africans for the 21st century and its fast-changing professional landscape. By 2030, roughly 230 million jobs in Africa will demand digital skills. Classroom practices must shift to meet these future employability needs and nurture creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving.

The African Union’s Year of Education 2024 is a historic moment to put education at the forefront of the policy agenda.

The African continent recorded the largest population of young people on the planet in 2023 and will comprise 42% of the global working age population by the end of this century.

Transforming African education systems to equip the current and future generations with 21st century skills is critical. A brief prepared in collaboration with GPE, the African Development Bank, the African Union, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNESCO and UNICEF outlines 5 steps to make this a reality:

1. Adequately finance Africa’s education ambition

Education is a powerful engine for economic growth. Innovative approaches can increase education financing in Africa to close the financing gap including debt swaps, loan buydowns and social impact bonds. Diversifying education financing can increase its impact and efficiency, and budgets should prioritize proven, cost-effective approaches in their policymaking so that it’s guided by evidence.

GPE’s Debt2Ed is one example of an innovative financing instrument that allows for a debt swap, transforming debt repayments on national borrowing into investments in education, securing significant additional grant financing through the GPE Multiplier. Debt2Ed aims to reduce the burden of debt in low-income countries to get more children in schools and learning and has already made a significant impact on countries’ education systems and financing like in Côte d’Ivoire.

2. Focus on learning and equity

Prioritizing making education systems inclusive and emphasizing foundational learning skills can lead to quality education for every girl and boy and tackle systemic disadvantage. Interventions to improve learning are effective when teaching matches students’ learning level instead of their grade and have even greater impact when coupled with interventions to improve attendance.

Leaving no one behind in education means focusing on learning outcomes for each child so that they are not marginalized because of a disability, refugee status, ethnicity, race, location or gender. Ensuring gender equality especially, both in and through education, means more children access school and the needs of more vulnerable children are met.

3. Invest in and collaborate with teachers

Teachers are vital to any effective strategy to transform education and can make a meaningful difference when included in cost-effective approaches to improve learning. Backed by a coherent investment package, increased teacher training and structured pedagogy that includes teacher professional development, teaching and learning materials, formative assessment and caregiver engagement are crucial to supporting teachers in their role of equipping students with 21st century skills.

Collaborating with teachers on education change initiatives is essential as they bring insights from the classroom and students’ lived experiences.


The first Africa Teachers report also emphasizes the important role teachers can play in promoting gender equality in education by ending child marriage in Africa and stressing the importance of educating girls.

4. Promote accountability and transparency

Having accountability mechanisms in place can help translate commitments in education to action and track progress. UNICEF’s Foundational Learning Action Tracker of government efforts can help inform decisions on country foundational learning programs and UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 Scorecard can be useful for gauging national benchmarks for school attendance, academic performance and education investment.

Having accountability mechanisms for education can also create a shared platform for African governments and stakeholders to exchange best practices and experiences across contexts.

5. Invest in relevant curricula and infrastructure for youth skill development and employability

Promoting curricula and training that are aligned with job market needs will allow for a smoother transition to the workforce for young Africans. Vocational training programs have been found to have a positive economic impact on youth labor market outcomes. Identifying which skills are most relevant for employers and adapting curricula accordingly can meet student employability needs.

There’s also ample opportunity for schools to introduce entrepreneurship skills in its teaching practices, aligning as such with the greater African context—now host to some of the fastest growing economies worldwide. There’s been a rise in start-up enterprises founded by Africans under the age of 35, and the World Economic Forum named 6 African startups shaping industries in its Technology Pioneers of 2022 list.

Education systems must prepare African youth to successfully enter and thrive within this professional landscape.

Sustained political leadership committed to systemic reform is key to sustainable improvements in learning and youth skill development. Leaders can better support Africa’s human capital by seizing the moment at the 37th African Union Summit to achieve:

  • More and better education financing,
  • Evidence-based policies and spending,
  • Inclusive quality foundational learning, and
  • Greater investment in and collaboration with teachers.

Despite daunting challenges, the tools and technology to adapt Africa’s education systems for the 21st century exist. What is needed is the strong political will to use them.

Key Area
Inclusive Education


Back to Top

Stay updated with the latest information

Sign-up for our newsletter and get updates sent directly to your inbox.