The Varkey Foundation: aiding sustainable development in Africa

The work has only just begun

GEMS Education and the Varkey Foundation were finalists in the Corporate Social Responsibility category at the 2015 African Business Awards presentation in New York on 24th September.

The awards, launched in 2008 by African Business magazine, recognise individuals and companies who are helping to drive Africa’s rapidly evolving economies by offering fresh opportunities for citizens and communities across the continent. Nominees such as GEMS and the Varkey Foundation were showing 'what can be done on the continent with hard work and single-minded determination,' said Omar Ben Yedder, Managing Director of IC Publications.

The ceremony was held on the eve of September's UN Sustainable Development Summit, where world leaders met to discuss sustainable development goals. The fourth Global Goal centres on ensuring ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ and ‘lifelong learning opportunities’ for all (you can read more about the 17 Global Goals here).


Gordon Carver, Project Director for the Varkey Foundation’s development work in Africa, believes an ambitious programme to train 250,000 teachers across the continent will be pivotal in driving growth via the fourth sustainable development goal. The foundation's programme has already trained 12,000 educators in Uganda and, looking ahead, Gordon believes it has the potential to make a huge difference both to the developing economies of African nations and to the lives of individuals. He outlines his vision below:

'During the last decade, Africa has been among the worlds fastest-growing continents — its average economic growth rate was more than five percent — buoyed in part by improved governance and economic reforms. Today, seven of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.

But as I write this, sitting in the Varkey Foundations office in Accra, Ghana (where I have now been based for over two years), the future of the continents growth will greatly depend on education. UNESCOs Education for All Global Monitoring Report shows that while school attendance in sub-Saharan Africa has increased, 175 million children remain illiterate. The inter-related reasons that children become absent from school include systemic poverty issues, illness, and the need to work to support their families.

With 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africas population under the age of thirty, the need has never been greater for cross-sector partnerships that promote education and address the reasons why children may not stay in school. As we address these current education challenges, improving teacher training quality and raising respect for the profession of teaching is a focus of the Varkey Foundation. We believe every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating, learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. To shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world, we also founded the Global Teacher Prize.

Among a group of peers at the recent Clinton Global Initiative Week of Action, I had the opportunity to discuss how best to equip teachers in sub-Saharan Africa for success. Around small tables, we exchanged ideas and strategies on challenges including:

the kinds of support that can be offered to teachers, especially women, experiencing or recovering from the devastating effects of conflicts and emergencies

the lack of resources associated with working in conflict settings

the creation of programs that are relevant, culturally and linguistically appropriate, and adequately prepare teachers for the classroom

how technology will play a role in preventing teacher absenteeism given that currently, many teachers in sub-Saharan Africa may have to travel significant distances to receive payment.

One solution is the Varkey Foundations ambitious program to train 250,000 teachers across Africa. So far this program has trained 12,000 teachers over the last two years in Uganda, one of the poorest counties in the world. As part of a recently announced Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, our teacher training program will expand across Central and Northern Uganda. Once fully funded, this would involve the training of an additional 3,000 school leaders from 1,500 new schools in six new districts. They would in turn train an additional 24,000 front-line teachers in those districts over the next three years.

Our training program plan moves away from a focus on memorisation and repeated facts. Instead, we train teachers to create a culture of personalised learningin the classroom with greater participation and exploration of ideas. Rather than simply relying on chalk and talkmethods of standing at the front of the classroom, teachers are taught to cater to different learning needsincluding those students who learn best through visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic methods.

There are a number of factors and obstacles that may contribute to a childs ability to attend school. But if we are able to one day succeed in getting every child into a classroom, their ability to maintain attendance and learn effectively will depend on the teachers who mentor themand the support those teachers receive.'

Published: 20th October 2015