Submitted by ADEA on Sat, 07/20/2019 - 01:48
About the Forum


World demographics are at a turning point, with the share of the working age population having peaked in 2012. Africa, with the world’s fastest growing population and more than half of its people under age 24, is yet to experience this demographic transition. The continent’s efforts to educate its youth will have vast implications for its economic development, stability and prosperity. Africa can seize the opportunity offered by the demographic dividend by investing in human capital development, particularly at the secondary education level in which youth gain the skills and knowledge needed to be productive citizens.

"Over the next few decades, young Africans will play a critical role in the social and economic development of the continent"

Key global and continental frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa’s Agenda 2063 place a premium on education for the realization of their goals and aspirations through SDG4 and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA 16-25), respectively. More work, however, remains in expanding access to, and improving the quality and inclusivity of, secondary education to meet these goals. There is evidence of major reforms taking place in some African countries to address these challenges, such as expanding universal, free primary education to universal basic education that encompasses lower secondary school and the shift from knowledge-based to competency-based curricula to develop the skills and mind-sets needed by youth in today’s economy. Lack of adequate financing, not fully using technology as a lever, weak accountability and efficiency, inadequate training and deployment of teachers skilled in new forms of pedagogy for implementing the new curricula, and slow reforms in the assessment and examination systems are some of the strong headwinds these reforms are encountering.

Secondary education will increasingly be the platform from which young people enter the workforce, given the increasing primary education completion rates and the low tertiary enrolment rates, apart from being a pathway to tertiary education. The combination of growing youth demographics, the changing nature of work and skills, and slowing economic growth requires greater innovation and reimagining of secondary education to respond adequately to the skills needs of the labour market in the formal and informal sectors.

The main aspiration of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), captured in its five year Strategic Plan (2018-2022), is to “act as a lever of change and elevate the voice of Africa on education priorities at regional, continental and global levels”. This aspiration guides ADEA’s contribution, through the implementation of its strategic plan, to the achievement of the twelve strategic objectives under CESA 16-25 in key areas of access, quality, and relevance of education. The Continental Education Platform pillar of the strategic plan focuses on three strategic initiatives: promote greater inter-country collaboration and coordination, harmonize multi-stakeholder efforts and, thus, strengthen the voice of Africa on all education related discussions.

Under this pillar, the strategic initiative named ‘high-level stakeholder forums’ essentially helps to synthesize the national discussions and offer a platform for all stakeholders to identify ways of transforming the education sector and responding to their emergent needs through discussions on critical issues.

To this end, ADEA will organize every year a High-Level Annual Policy Dialogue Forum in order to bring together key stakeholders to showcase, share and discuss comprehensive and innovative education and training models/programmes that aim at developing the leadership, skills and equipping the youth with the necessary knowledge, tools and know-how for employability or job creation. Outcomes of the High-Level Annual Policy Dialogue Forum will contribute to the discussions and key decisions that inform reforms in the countries’ policies and practices.

Objectives and expected outcomes

ADEA will dedicate the two full days of this year’s Annual High-Level Policy Dialogue Forum to secondary education in Africa. The Forum will provide an opportunity to review and discuss findings and recommendations of the MasterCard Foundation’s study on secondary education in Africa.

Specifically, the objectives are to:

  • Share new data on the state of secondary education in Africa;
  • Interrogate the identified key trends in improving the systems and delivery of secondary education in Africa;
  • Learn about evidence and best practices in secondary education in the continent;
  • Consider the proposed policy options and implementation strategies for improving the African continent’s secondary education; and
  • Validate and promote the ownership, awareness and uptake of the study’s recommendations and key messages on secondary education in Africa.

The expected outcomes of the Forum include: 

  • Shared understanding of mechanisms for leveraging secondary education to better empower the African youths to contribute effectively to the socio-economic transformation of their respective countries.
  • Shared knowledge, experiences, good practices and lessons to inform policies and programmes aimed at improving the access, quality and relevance of secondary education curricula and building resilience in the teachers’ working conditions.
  • Roadmap for forming an ICQN on Secondary Education and developing a strategic framework.
  • Fostered partnerships among key education stakeholders to advance policy and strategy development and implementation.
  • Enhanced evidence-based research on secondary education from within the continent.

Proposed venue and date

The Government of the Republic of South Africa will host the forum on 29th - 30th July 2019 at the Emperor Palace in Johannesburg.

Proposed theme and sub-theme

Secondary education is critical to the development of the work force at the higher education level where people specialize in different disciplines. Challenges to secondary-school participation are greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, although many countries have committed themselves to more than the achievement of universal primary education and now include several years of secondary school in their national targets. The African continent needs more scientists, engineers, doctors, managers and skilled technicians to become competitive in today’s global economy. This shows clearly that the focus on secondary education is critical with significant challenges that remain in access, quality, and relevance. In addition, the lack of evidence-based policy specific to secondary education in many sub-Saharan African countries is also challenging the efforts for improvement by African governments.

Informed by the findings of the World Bank study in 2008 entitled “At the Crossroads Choice for Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa”, the MasterCard Foundation undertook a comprehensive collaborative study between 2017 and 2019 to take stock of progress in expanding access to quality, relevant and inclusive secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa. Through engagement with African governments and policymakers, secondary education experts, bilateral and multilateral donors, private foundations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and other representatives of civil society, the study identified some of the new challenges and opportunities for innovation, and highlighted areas of progress that could serve as examples. ADEA’s role in the study included facilitating engagements with the African youth and policymakers, and guiding the study’s direction as a member of the Strategic Advisory Group.

Therefore, ADEA has dedicated its first Annual Policy Dialogue Forum to Secondary Education in Africa with the theme "Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work".

The focus areas of the MasterCard Foundation’s study will contribute to the sub-themes, together with other aspects such as teacher motivation, teaching and learning, and digital secondary education for 21st century skills. The following are the proposed sub-themes:

  • Fostering Relevant Knowledge and Skills:
    • What skills do African young people need to gain at the secondary level, given the changing nature of work?
    • In what ways should secondary education curricula and pedagogy change in Africa to deliver skills relevant to the future of work?
    • What is the place for technical and vocational training within secondary education?
    • How can we develop a highly skilled teaching workforce to meet growing demand for secondary education?
  • Flexible Pathways for Diverse Young People:
    • How can we make education systems more flexible to accommodate all youth?
    • How can systems promote stronger linkages between general and technical pathways?
    • Can innovation in education technology help to deliver at scale more flexible secondary education?
    • Perspectives of private sector on secondary education reform.
  • Financing for Equity:
    • How do we strike the right balance in financing different levels of the education system?
    • How can we finance secondary education in a way that targets the poorest?
    • What system-level efficiencies might help open fiscal space to finance secondary education?
  • Perspectives of the youth on secondary education reform:

The objective is to look at how to move from research to implementation, shape policy change in secondary education and embed the findings and recommendations in country level priorities and practices.

Methodological approach

The Forum will use a mixed approach to promote, as much as possible, maximum interaction among the participants. Thus, there will be short introductory sessions in plenary where the main outcomes of the study, for the different areas, will be presented to create room for shared understanding of the subject to be discussed. Breakout sessions will follow. The outcome of the breakout sessions will be shared in summary plenary sessions for participants to reflect upon and contribute to the formulation of the forum's recommendations/key messages for the different stakeholders involved in secondary education in Africa. There will also be space for stakeholders to exhibit their work, aligned to the theme.

Much of this Forum will therefore be through a process of debating case studies, experiences and challenges of countries and partners, including by the countries themselves. The discussions will be through resolving issues based on innovative experiences and success stories. The Forum will be more interactive in order to capitalize on experience sharing. The nature and diversity of issues and challenges related to secondary education development in line with a skills-oriented focus make it essential that, as much as possible, all types of partners and stakeholders contribute to the debates and implementation of the outcomes of the Forum.

Expected participants (by invitation only)

The high-level convening power of ADEA will be preserved through the projected participation of over 200 participants comprising the following:

  • Government Ministers in charge of education, finance, TVET, youth and employment
  • Members of Parliament and Senior Government officials
  • African Union and Regional Economic Communities (RECs)
  • Technical and Financial Development Partners
  • Private Sector
  • International and regional organizations, and civil society
  • African youth and young entrepreneurs
  • Teachers unions, Parents-Teachers Associations / Boards of Governors, Teachers
  • Experts and Academia
  • South African participants


This Annual High Level Policy Dialogue Forum should be considered as an intermediate pathway, which all stakeholders can follow together. The Forum should help inform countries to target specific programs for piloting, and look to ADEA to support the countries through its network of experts and partners in the implementation process. The Forum should support the direct translation of the policy options into tangible and achievable actions that can be up-scaled, replicated and help guide the focus of stakeholders in coordinating their actions.