The Unfinished Puzzle: Why Africa Urgently Needs Alternative Pathways into Education

Evan Hendon, Chief Programmes Officer

Across Africa, schools are buzzing with eager students and dedicated teachers. But there’s a hidden snag in this vibrant education scene: a massive gap in qualified teachers. Millions of educators, from fresh-faced first-time teachers to seasoned school leaders, lack the official qualifications needed to truly thrive and build a career in education. This isn’t just a paperwork issue; it’s a roadblock to stable careers, higher salaries, the development and effectiveness of national education systems, and ultimately, the best possible education for millions of kids.

Think of it like a half-finished puzzle. The picture’s there – the passion, the dedication, the desire to make a difference. But a crucial piece is missing: the formal recognition that unlocks career progression and professional stability. And this missing piece isn’t some small corner chip; it’s a gaping hole.

The numbers tell a stark story. Around 2.2 million teachers across Africa currently lack official qualifications – the result of access to basic education booming faster than teacher training could keep up. Schools filled up, but the pipeline supplying qualified and skilled educators didn’t grow at the same pace. Global influences that prioritized investment in education at the basic level and turned a blind eye to other indicators have left education systems incredibly skewed. 

And the challenge goes beyond just numbers. Headteachers, the captains of these learning ships, often lack the specialized skills and credentials to truly steer their schools towards excellence as instructional leaders – long gone are the days when headteachers were the lead administrator in a school; in today’s world headteachers need to serve as the lead teacher educator in the school, which requires updated training, credentials, and in many times, an entirely new skill set. Imagine navigating an evolved school system with an outdated user manual – that’s the reality for many school leaders.

Traditional solutions, like years-long costly university degrees, are well-meaning but often fall short. Let’s face it, not everyone can afford to drop everything and spend years in lectures while juggling families and bills and access to seats in traditional university courses is dwindling. Rigid schedules and hefty fees can feel like insurmountable walls for those eager to upskill and unlock their full potential.

So, what’s the missing piece in this educational puzzle? We need responsive, ongoing, practical, teacher training that is grounded in the needs of today… hacks (for lack of a better word). Innovative solutions that are flexible, affordable, and focused on real-world skills. Alternative pathways to qualifications that teachers can take on their own terms, without sacrificing their classrooms or livelihoods.

We’ve been deeply focused on this challenge. Our experience with our Upskill app which offers bite-sized modules for continuous professional development, has shown us the undeniable power of flexible learning. We’re exploring how to build on this foundation, drawing inspiration from exciting concepts like stackable credentials, where smaller qualifications can build towards larger goals.

More on that soon – we’re still learning and iterating, driven by the belief that answers to complex challenges like this can’t be found in isolation. If our journey so far has taught us anything it’s that Timbuktu was not built in a day, and it certainly wasn’t completed by one person. We value your voice, your insights, and your experiences. Reach out to us by email, in our comment sections, DMs, or a good old-fashioned phone call. Share your thoughts, your stories, your frustrations and your hopes. We may just be able to build a bridge across this educational gap after all.