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Statement by Mr. Claver Gatete at the 44th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council

14 February, 2024
Statement by Mr. Claver Gatete at the 44th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council

44th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council 

Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa.



Claver Gatete

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and

Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) 

Addis Ababa

14 February 2024 


Your Excellency, Dhoihir Dhoulkama, Chair of the Executive Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Comoros,

Your Excellency, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission,

Your Excellency, Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,

Your Excellency, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission,

Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegations,

African Union Commissioners, 

Distinguished guests, 

Ladies and gentlemen,


I am honored to address the Executive Council on the important topic of education, chosen as the African Union theme for this year.

This Summit marks a pivotal moment in our commitment to transform our education system to one that is ‘fit for purpose’ in today’s world.

Education is a basic human right and a key enabler for achieving our collective socio-economic development objectives.

When we fail to provide accessible and inclusive education, we deny people this right.

We also limit our prospects to structurally transform.

Yet, much remains to be done to ensure education for all in Africa.

Today, quantity, quality, and equal access remain major barriers.

By 2030, nearly 1 in 2 young people globally will be African.

But the evolving population dynamics is not matched with vital skills for Africans to fully participate in a changing workforce.

Over 700 million youths and adults lack basic literacy skills, with women being a larger proportion, according to UNESCO.

Furthermore, 40 percent of children from poorest families do not complete primary school, compared to 80 percent from richest families who do complete (UN, 2022).

Some African countries record zero upper secondary completion rates for girls from the poorest background[1] (UNESCO/AUC 2023).



In 1960s, African leaders questioned the relevance of the colonial education system in meeting the developmental needs of Africa.

Yet, six decades later, we continue to reflect on the same question - are our current education system and curriculum preparing African youth for the future job market?

COVID-19 pandemic hastened the adoption of technology in many industries and current poly-crises are forcing us to rethink the global landscape.

Smart agricultural technologies, digital platforms, e-commerce, automation, and artificial intelligence are changing the skills required for many economic sectors.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are now skills for the future.

STEM occupations generate more wealth and improve competitiveness and economic growth (Brookings, 2018).

Furthermore, integrating technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in education systems can boost entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation.

Yet less than 25 percent of higher education students pursue STEM courses.

The stark gender divide mean that women make up only 30 percent of STEM students.

Inadequate resources, lack of education and absence of basic numeracy are limiting Africa’s STEM landscape.

We must therefore ask: ‘what investments do we need to make today to generate a workforce for the future?’



Quality education is imperative.

This calls for a digital transformation of education systems.

We are witnessing a digital shift in the global workforce.

But Africa only accounts for 0.1 percent of global innovation.

And our expenditure on research and development averages only 0.45 percent of GDP.

In addition, Africa’s share of the global patent application is only 0.5 percent, when compared to 66.8 percent for Asia, for example.

Without a doubt, it makes good business sense to upscale investments in Africa’s education system toward areas that enhance productive capabilities and boost global competitiveness.

Sustainable industrialization and economic diversification remain the most promising channels for jobs and wealth creation.

Innovation will be the foundation to achieve this.

Therefore, improvement in education, especially investments in STEM and TVET are sine qua non to building the requisite productive capabilities.

To make the African Continental Free Trade Area work, we need a skills revolution underpinned by science, technology, engineering and innovation.



Africa cannot afford to play small in this 4th industrial revolution.

We must be drivers or miss yet another opportunity.

We can build technological capabilities that foster value addition in strategic sectors like agribusiness, manufacturing, green transitions, global health etc.

We can generate economies of scale and agglomeration because we have the necessary workforce.

When we integrate TVET within a modernized education system, we ensure capable labour markets for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to become more competitive.



Education is as close to a panacea as we have towards achieving transformational change.

But measurable results require the necessary investments in infrastructure, resources, and in developing the right curricula.

Curricula that will allow Africa to leverage its natural and human capital, and the demographic dividend, when parts of the world are struggling with aging populations.

To this end, we urgently need to translate our promises into tangible actions.

We know that unprecedented fiscal challenges are impacting governments’ fulfillment of the Incheon and Paris Declarations.

Notwithstanding, there are things we can do.

First, governments can foster partnerships between industries and educational institutions so that curricula align with job markets.

Second, improvements in the efficiency of educational spending and investments through strengthened performance accountability frameworks can also yield results.

More can be done to crowd in the private sector to support human capital development.

In addition, cross-continental educational networks can promote intra-Africa knowledge sharing and mutual recognition of education and training systems and qualifications.

Finally, closing the digital gender divide must be everyone’s priority because it is just and makes economic sense.



Today’s discourse could not be more timely.

The future of multiple generations is at stake.

The cost of inaction is unimaginable loss.

Education remains a top priority for the United Nations, and I commend the African Union for making it the major focus for this year.

ECA remains committed to working together with you to realize an education system fit for the 21st century.

I thank you for your kind attention.

[Arabic Version]

[1] Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Madagascar, the DRC, and The Gambia