By Daniel Bornstein, YA Delegate from New York and a soon-to-be freshman at Dartmouth College
I entered the UN Youth Assembly most passionate about environmental sustainability. Yet after speaking with delegates from several African nations and reading a huge poster of YA delegates’ creative ideas about improving global education, I’ve been inspired to pay more attention to education in Africa.
More than a few Post-It notes on the poster that I saw in the North Lawn Conference Building on Friday mentioned education in Africa, especially the rural parts.
Increasing educational access for the people of African nations will not only foster economic progress but, most important, create a permanent constituency of citizens who view corruption as unacceptable. The unfortunate reality in Africa now is that many heads of state face little public pressure to be honest leaders. As a YA delegate from the Democratic Republic of Congo told me, we need an educational system in Africa that produces a generation of people who truly understand the issues in their nations and who can thus hold their leaders accountable.
But an educated class well-informed of the dishonest conduct of certain governments poses a threat to the powerful elite–the so-called “strongmen” of Africa. That makes it all the more difficult to figure out who exactly should be taking the lead on the education issue in nations where corruption reigns. To me, such a situation is precisely where NGOs need to play a role–taking vital action when a political institution fails to do so.
Expanding education in Africa would give the youth a considerable amount of political clout. I met several YA delegates from The Gambia who are involved with youth organizations working with the government. These groups represent the stark reality that the youth are a vital part of African nations and thus should not be excluded from the political system.
The urgency that I sensed from YA delegates about education in Africa reminded me of an organization called Educate!, located in Uganda. Educate!, which is led by Amherst College alumni Eric Glustrom and Boris Bulayev, recruits the top students from its partner high schools in Uganda. The students, under the guidance of mentors, are placed in a rigorous curriculum. Ultimately, the students have an opportunity to create a community development project. It is a fascinating example of an NGO unleashing the potential of local talent (which I think is a much more effective approach than an NGO simply donating money for schools).
I hope that all YA delegates were motivated to start taking action on education in Africa. A new generation of educated people is what we need to weaken the grip of the continent’s “strongmen.”