Africa’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will depend on the continent’s ability to mobilize resources, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said on Wednesday.
Adesina was speaking during Nobel Week Dialogue, a prelude to the main event where prizes are awarded to global leaders in literature, peace, economics and other fields. The theme of the event is “The challenge of learning – the future of education.”
“The speed and quality of recovery will depend on how much we are able to mobilize resources to deal with this,” Adesina said, adding that Africa needs global backing in many areas, but principally in three areas: fiscal support, healthcare provision and youth employment.
In a recorded interview, Adesina said Africa needed “breathing room” in the wake of the pandemic.
“Unless and until we make sure that Africa gets support to free up their fiscal space, it’s going to be a limited amount of money competing for health, for education, for infrastructure…But we’ll continue to work with all the partners. I’m a very positive person and I know at the end of the day we’ll get some resources to get things back on the right track.”
Adesina said the COVID-19 pandemic had “significantly affected spending on education” as funds were diverted to other priorities such as healthcare. He said the gap between the finance needed for education in Africa and the available funding was $40 billion, and “that has only got worse.”
“A lot of children of the poor have suffered disproportionately…By the end of October…nine million kids were not in schools in places like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso…Twelve million kids missed school for months in places like Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.”
He said many children had missed out on virtual learning because they did not have access to electricity, while around 28 million schoolchildren did not have access to mobile networks.
Asked whether anything positive had come out of the pandemic, Adesina said the Bank continued to invest massively in the continent, including a $10 billion crisis response facility to support countries through the crisis, and a $3 billion COVID-19 social bond, the largest ever dollar-denominated social bond.
The president’s interview formed part of a panel discussion on the impact of COVID-19. It was followed by a conversation among three global leaders in the field of education: Nobel laureate Frances Arnold, education and sustainable development expert Asha Kanwar and academic and computer scientist Daphne Koller.
The panelists discussed the pros and cons of virtual learning.
“What we’ve learned is we can learn at home but not all the time, because science is all about collaboration and learning from experience and experiments, and that’s pretty hard to do from home,” said Arnold, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018.
On the other hand, people had connected in unprecedented ways, Arnold said, citing a web call she had participated in with 1,000 people, from Brazil to Bangladesh.
The role of parents was another topic for debate. Kanwar, CEO of the intergovernmental Commonwealth of Learning, said parents could play a key role in schooling, while Koller pointed out that not all parents had the time or skills to for that task, which could further deepen inequities in education.
Kanwar, whose organization focuses on open and distance learning, said it might be time to incorporate self-learning into education systems, as per the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Nobel Dialogue Week 2020 featured an international array of experts and leaders, including former Irish president Mary Robinson, world-renowned pianist Igor Levit, and eight Nobel laureates, including 2020 Chemistry Laureate Emmanuelle Charpentier.