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Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu: #Education cannot wait

Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu: #Education cannot wait

Our countries need smart kids to carry them forward

Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu, a 2015 Queen’s Young Leader from Cameroon, writes about the urgent action that is needed to ensure all children get an education. This piece is adapted from his speech at the 2016 One Young World Summit in Ottawa, Canada, where he took part through Emma Watson’s One Young World Scholarship. Join the discussion at the bottom of the page.

According to UNESCO, 124 million children and adolescents were out of school in 2013. Fifty-nine million will never attend primary school. And for those who do, they will learn so little that compared to their out-of-school peers there isn’t any striking difference. Of this number, 30 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is the future of a generation whose contribution is vital for Africa’s economic growth and social development, and yet is likely to remain stagnated.

The good news is despite these failing numbers, primary school enrollment increased by 75% to 144 million in 2012, gender gaps are narrowing, and more kids are making it through to secondary school.

The bad news? Progress towards universal primary education has stalled because governments are failing to extend opportunities to the most marginalised and hardest-to-reach children.


I recently visited the towns of Dosso and Doutchi in rural Niger – one of 35 crisis-affected countries where 75 million children, aged three to 18 years need educational support.

Major challenges facing the educational system in Niger and much of Africa include:

  •  extreme poverty
  • discrimination against girls
  • insecurity
  • parental illiteracy
  • early marriage
  • the poor quality of some teachers
  • overcrowded schools
  • and poor infrastructure.

Poor learning outcomes in primary schools result in just 28% of Africa’s youth being enrolled into secondary school. Another 90 million youths struggle to find low-paid jobs. In the absence of an urgent drive to raise standards, half of out-of-school children – 61 million in total – will reach adolescence lacking the basic learning skills which they, and their countries, need to escape poverty.

Teaching is therefore at the heart of the learning crisis and key to Africa’s economic success.

In my country, Cameroon – despite government efforts to put every child in school – attendance rate is barely 65%.

Over 80% of head teachers in Cameroon say budgets don't arrive on time and they lack school materials and supplies to facilitate learning. According to Transparency International, 50% of primary schools have poor infrastructures. Only 19% have working toilets. Only 30% have access to tap water and barely 30% have enough tables and benches for students.

Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu with children in Niger

Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu with children in Niger


At HOPE for Children Cameroon, we provide educational assistance by supplying equipment such as benches, writing materials, uniforms, learning aids, and computers to primary schools.

We are currently serving over 1,300 children helping them to become creative, to reason, and to solve complex problems.

School absenteeism from diarrhea-related illnesses is still high, and so we have constructed safe pit toilets for children and teachers. This has reduced school absenteeism by 27% and teachers now stay longer in schools. 

The African youth population is expected to grow by 42.5 million by 2020 according to the World Bank. Over 470 million jobs will be needed globally in the labour force between 2016 and 2030. Hence the need for investment in key skills to drive economic growth.


Companies are shifting towards demand for high level skills while low and medium skilled jobs are becoming obsolete. Meeting this demand in the near future requires innovations within an educational system that is becoming obsolete – especially in developing countries.

For years now, technology has failed to provide solutions to these problems. And while we may blame the tech industry, some blame can also be attributed to the hostile, bureaucratic and poor infrastructure plaguing our current educational system.

With sub-Saharan Africa now considered the world’s fastest-growing mobile technology region, there is a huge promise towards digital learning. This makes it possible to bring low-cost access to education and provide new learners with skills.

Billions has been spent on financing education in developing countries, often resulting in poor outcomes. Using technology to fix underperforming schools may not always be the solution. But failure to try and harness technology could end up damaging the lives of millions of children.

Investing in the future

We need to invest in teacher training, personalised learning and supporting teachers with livable wages. We need to incentivise parents so that children, especially girls, can stay in school. Every dollar we invest in an additional year of school, generates an additional $10 in health and earnings in low-income countries.

Unless African governments and the international community work in close partnership to raise educational standards, the future of millions of children will be wasted. That’s something we can’t afford to risk. We must strive to leave our countries with smart and better kids to carry it forward.

As the late Nelson Mandela once said “Any society which does not care for its children is no nation at all.”