However, the type of education, who it is for, and what it should lead to, is still a matter of debate.
In the last 50 years, the education systems in most sub-Saharan countries have been a mix of hybrid curricula copied from a Eurocentric approach; not adapted to the realities of the indigenous pupils, their strengths and their weaknesses.
So most systems use a one-size-fits-all approach. Neither the students’ environment nor their origins were taken into account.
The one-size-fits all model is now antiquated, and to create tomorrow’s active citizens, the entire philosophy of the educational system should be aligned to the future vision and needs of a country.
My home country of Gabon is at a turning point. Indeed, it has embarked on a bold strategy; that of becoming, by 2025, an emerging-diversified economy. Our growth will be based on sustainable forestry, agriculture and higher value mining and extraction industries. This requires a new kind of education that will create a generation that has the skills to lead.
While the national education reform is underway, I wanted to test a few new ideas. One of those ideas was the creation of a school of excellence that would be an example to the rest of the continent.
For years, I dreamed of creating a significant full-time education project that would help shape the future of the country. Yet, testing new ideas in Africa is difficult. Often the old does not bode well when new thinking has to take place.
Yet, thanks to my supporting team—of course I didn’t do it by myself, I enlisted partners—in 2013, we succeeded in opening the Ecole Ruban Vert on a seven-hectare campus in the heart of Libreville.
Ecole Ruban Vert was founded to create this new standard of education for Gabon; an education tied to international standards and rooted in sustainability to create the types of leaders that fit with the vision of the country. It would probably have been more straightforward for us to staff it with well-qualified teachers, tie our curriculum to international standards and create a standard international school, but we wanted to make a difference and to push further.
The core question was: how could the school help shape the country and the region’s future?
We decided to become the first school in the region to create a generation whose education was based on sustainability. Indeed, a central pillar of the government’s vision for the future of Gabon is sustainable development, and building a green Gabon. The country is 80 per cent covered in rainforests that act as the “green lung” of the continent.
About 11 percent of this area is dedicated to national parks and this World Heritage has to be preserved at all cost.
Our students learn about environmental protection and preservation, climate change, energy, recycling and up-cycling, green business practice and acting responsibly; this guides and develops them into environmentally aware and active leaders. We focus on local ideas and examples, using Gabon as our inspiration, but we consider our community action in a global context, making positive changes for our school and our local area.
To date, the school counts over 23 nationalities. My hope is that one day Ecole Ruban Vert can inspire other nations to adopt similar approaches and create a generation of sustainably minded leaders. For too long education in Africa has been viewed as needing to ‘catch-up’ with the West, but through projects like this we can show how Africa can lead as well.
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New UK international development minister Nick Hurd wants to boost off-grid solar power in the only region where those without access to modern energy is set to rise
For a man who has only recently started his job, international development minister Nick Hurd seems sure of his priorities.
“Energy Africa makes perfect sense to me,” he says. “In the next few weeks and months we’re going to be shaping what DfID [the Department for International Development] does in the next five, arguably 10 years. But improving access to energy in Africa is my particular focus at the moment.”
After spending four years as minister for civil society under the coalition government, Hurd has been parachuted into the job at DfID to replace Grant Shapps, who resigned in the midst of allegations that bullying in the Tory party had led to the death of one of its activists.
Although his new portfolio covers a range of issues including water, climate change, sanitation, education and health, his immediate priority is to “keep up the momentum” of the Energy Africa campaign launched by Shapps in October.
Hurd has his sights set on the seventh sustainable development goal: universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030. But sub-Saharan Africa is currently 50 years behind, the only region in the world where the number of people denied access to modern forms of energy is set to rise and, based on current trends, predicted to hit the goal by 2080.
Inspired by Barack Obama’s flagship Power Africa programme, Hurd hopes that Energy Africa can make a key difference. Last month the US and UK projects came together to create a new partnership to address specific issues such as the need for shared power across borders, resources for geothermal power, and to boost the number of women participating in Africa’s solar industry.
But unlike Power Africa, which has been catalysing a wide range of renewable energy projects that will connect to the national grid – from a vast solar farm in Rwanda to the first wind power project in Senegal – Energy Africa has a very specific objective: to accelerate off-grid solar power for households using private investment.
Grid investment will only reach 40% of the population and leave more than 500 million people still without electricity access in 2030,according to the Overseas Development Institute. Critics say that the impact of DfID’s campaign will be only “incremental” because the continent needs large-scale infrastructure and while NGOs push decentralisation, Africans want a grid connection.
But it is well known that these incremental changes can create significant new possibilities in the lives of individuals and communities, from lanterns that enable pupils to study at night, to mobile phone chargers, to lights for huts that keep animals safe from predators.
Hurd is adamant about the need and value of off-grid investment. “The question is: what can we do for the 60% now?” he asks. “It strikes a chord with ministers wrestling with energy access in their countries. On-grid is massively important but most of the projections suggest that’s going to take a long time and won’t reach all the population. That’s why Energy Africa is focused on household solar energy. We think there is huge potential in off-grid particularly, because we see this market developing which we think we, with partners, can turbo charge.”
A host of factors have coalesced to create what Hurd describes as a “pivotal moment” for household solar in Africa. In the past six years, the price of panels has dropped by around 70%, making it as cheap as fossil fuels in some areas. The price and quality of battery technologies is also improving fast while the spread of mobile money systems on the continent is making solar an increasingly feasible prospect for the individual householder.
Six countries have signed up to DfID’s Energy Africa campaign. Ministers from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia were the first to complete an agreement, followed by Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda. Eight other countries have been identified as potential targets, including Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The countries were chosen because they were “biting our hand off” says Hurd. “We are responding to demand.”
Working in fragile states is one of DfID’s explicit objectives, partly driven by national security interests. More than half its budget is committed to work in such regions, but implementing clean energy is a challenge in states grappling with terrorism and conflict, such as Nigeria and Somalia.
Problems vary from country to country, but the industry has been held back by a lack of legal and tax structures. The International Finance Corporation is currently working to establish a new set of product standards. DfID say it is its role to work out how to streamline the bureaucracy, and the specific challenges in each country are still being identified.
Providing electricity at the household level comes with additional challenges. For rural communities miles from a grid connection, energy poverty is entrenched by lack of access to financial systems. Pay-as-you-go schemes offered by mobile phones are changing this, but penetration fluctuates from country to country. DfID hopes that the campaign will be able to support non-bank financial providers to create mobile payment systems. In places where regulation makes it unfeasible, alternatives such as scratch cards will make up the difference.
The campaign is not a “traditional aid programme” says Hurd. Its aim is to galvanise private investment in countries where DfID has formed a partnership with the government. “It’s a different model,” he says. “It’s not about a huge chunk of public money; it’s not a DfID programme as such. It’s a private-sector solution to this challenge.”
But in a debate where creating clean energy is often pitted against economic development, it does not yet seem to be clear how foreign investment galvanised by the campaign will provide substantial jobs for Africans on the ground.
Although DfID has previously given seed funding to mobile money solar companies in the UK and Africa – such as Azuri Technologies and Persistent Energy Ghana – the majority of investors involved in the campaign will be foreign, with many British companies involved.
“We’re not nationalistic about this. We know it’s going to be private-sector led and we want to support entrepreneurs. At the moment most of the businesses are foreign, but over time my hope and expectation is that this will evolve. There is a hell of a lot going on in trying to increase energy access in Africa. My overriding instinct is to keep asking the question: how does this join up?”