Mar 15, 2023 | Blog

Fostering An Inclusive And Technology Responsive Education For Youth Living With Disabilities In Africa

Fostering An Inclusive And Technology Responsive Education  For Youth Living With Disabilities In Africa

This is the 6th post in a blog series to be published in 2023 by the APET Secretariat on behalf of the AU High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) and the Calestous Juma Executive Dialogues (CJED)

The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 considers Africa’s adolescents and youth as a critical population segment for improving Africa’s socio-economic solutions. The AU recognises the immense potential of this demographic dividend in driving Africa's socio-economic solutions and has made it a priority to empower young people in Africa to take charge of their future.  Africa’s youth are increasingly creating innovations for social change and economic reform towards addressing a variety of daily and local challenges.

Fundamentally, AU’s Agenda 2063 on Leveraging the Power of Africa's Youth, aspires to harness the power of Africa's youth demographic dividend by investing in their education, technology and innovation skills, and entrepreneurship. These young people are creating start-up companies and social enterprises to address some of Africa's most critical issues, which can support African countries to leverage emerging technologies, creativity, and innovation to create solutions that address development challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and healthcare needs. The AU recognises that empowering Africa's youth requires a multifaceted approach. This entails nurturing an enabling environment that fosters innovation, providing quality education and training, and creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. To accomplish this, the AU is encouraging African governments and other stakeholders to create policies and programmes that support initiatives of Africa’s youth. These support include funding for start-up companies and micro-enterprises, mentorship and coaching, and programmes that equip young people with the necessary skills to thrive in the 21st-century economy. The initiatives also include promoting the involvement of young people in decision-making processes at all levels such as policy development, governance, and leadership positions.

Africa's greatest natural resource is the innovative minds of its talented young people. By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of the world’s youth and account for 75% of those under age 35 in Africa.[1] However, unfortunately, when it comes to innovation and the adoption of emerging technologies, youth living with disabilities are the most vulnerable in Africa. Remarkably, not all youths on the continent have equal access to the opportunities that these technologies present. The youth living with disabilities are facing significant challenges in accessing platforms, resources, and support to realise their full potential and become value-adding global citizens. The African youth living with disabilities in Africa are most vulnerable because they live in environments lacking the necessary infrastructure, policies, and resources to fully participate  in the digital economy. Therefore, African countries must reflect and recognise their capacity to innovate and develop local-based technological solutions.[2]

APET realises that youth living with disabilities in Africa are some of the most vulnerable in terms of innovation and adoption of emerging technologies.  Estimations are indicating that between 10% - 20% of the African population has a form of disability.[3] On the other hand, many African countries are guaranteeing the right to basic education. However, this right is barely being observed by people living with disabilities.[4] For example, Africa contributes about 80% of the world's total 140 million out-of-school children, the majority of whom are girls and children living with disabilities (See figure 1).

Fostering An Inclusive And Technology Responsive Education  For Youth Living With Disabilities In Africa

Figure 1: Disability statistics in Africa

One of the biggest challenges that youth living with disabilities face is limited access to quality education. Many schools in Africa are not designed to accommodate the needs of students living with disabilities, and their teachers are often ill-equipped to provide them with the necessary support. This lack of access to education limits their ability to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to participate fully in the digital economy. Additionally, youth living with disabilities face significant barriers to accessing technology.  Most of the technologies currently available are not designed to accommodate their needs, for example the blind, thereby making it difficult for them to use these useful tools.

Furthermore, many of the youth living with disabilities are residing in areas that lack reliable internet connectivity and electricity, thereby, limiting their ability to access online platforms and tools. As a result, the lack of resources and support also limits the youth living with disability in becoming entrepreneurs and innovators. Moreover, many youths living with disabilities are unable to access funding, mentorship, and training programmes that are essential to starting and growing a business. Consequently, they are often unable to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the digital economy.

APET realises that the opportunities for people with disabilities to engage effectively in the creation and dissemination of innovation and emerging technologies are directly and negatively impacted by an exclusion from the knowledge-acquisition process. Youth living with disabilities are usually treated as study subjects rather than being considered and perceived as equal thinkers and information carriers in their own right. As a result, they are unable to participate equally as African citizens.

In order to realise their full potential and become value-adding global citizens, youth living with disabilities require access to quality education, accessible technology, and the necessary resources and support to become entrepreneurs and innovators. APET recommends that African governments and other stakeholders prioritise investing in the development and advancement of youth living with disabilities and ensure that their rights are fully integrated into the development of policies and programmes. In addition, the government and private sector must exert more effort to ensure that they possess the intellectual and technical skills that empower and enable them to not only be employable, but also to create jobs and drive economic growth. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive and prosperous Africa for all.

The AU High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) encourages African governments and other stakeholders to prioritise investments in the development of youths living with disabilities. The panel recommends that this investment focuses on creating inclusive education systems, developing accessible technology, and providing the necessary resources and support to enable youth living with disabilities to become entrepreneurs and innovators. Furthermore, African governments need to ensure that disability rights are fully integrated into their policies and programmes. They should include youth living with disabilities and their organisations in consultative processes to ensure that their needs and priorities are adequately addressed.

APET further encourages African countries to expand inclusive knowledge-sharing platforms and schools, enhance healthcare service delivery, and reduce bullying cases targeted at people living with disabilities. This can be accomplished by assisting and safeguarding youth living with disabilities among all stakeholders involved in their well-being. This includes adequately training parents and teachers' capacity to enhance inclusive education.

In an APET roundtable discussion held on the margins of the African Union Summit of 2023,  which focused on youth’s participation and involvement in digital transformation for Africa, APET acknowledged the digital divide that exists between youth living with disabilities and able-bodied youth in Africa. As such, APET emphasised the need for African countries to accomplish the AU’s Agenda 2063’s aspirations of equal opportunities for all Africans, including youths living with disabilities. Thus, it was recommended that African countries provide competent educators who can exhibit compassion, empathy, and dedication to youth living with disabilities.

APET further recommended that universities and colleges that are training teachers should provide curriculum that delivers long-term solutions to guarantee that all students can equally access quality education. These training programmes in teacher training universities and colleges should ensure that all teachers have the skills necessary to teach all youth, irrespective of their challenges, especially in science, technology, and innovation.

That said, ensuring that all students have equal access to quality education is a fundamental challenge faced by education systems globally, but more especially in Africa. APET, however, asserts that while teacher quality is a key determinant of student success, not all teachers are adequately equipped to address the diverse learning needs of their students. Teacher training universities and colleges are significantly providing teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to overcome these challenges. Quality teacher training programmes are essential to ensuring that students have equal access to quality education that effectively impacts student achievement and addresses the diverse needs of their students to provide a positive learning environment that promotes success for all.

APET, therefore, advises that teacher training universities and colleges should develop curricula that prioritise the development of skills that enable teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners. This includes the ability to identify and address the learning challenges faced by students, particularly those who are traditionally underserved, such as students from low-income families, students living with disabilities, and students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Since the world has been globalised, science, technology, and innovation are increasingly enhancing Africa’s socio-economic growth and development. Therefore, students should have access to quality education in these fields. However, reports are demonstrating that students from traditionally under-served communities often lack access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, which can limit their opportunities for future success.[5] Thus, teacher training programmes should recognise the importance of collaboration and community partnerships in achieving these goals. This includes partnerships with local schools and community organisations, as well as collaborations with other universities and colleges to share best practices and resources.

APET encourages African governments to augment their investment in education, particularly in science, technology, and innovation programmes. This will ensure that youth living with disabilities have access to the resources they need to obtain and develop the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century. African governments should work with private organisations and international partners to leverage additional funding for education. African governments should also prioritise the development of specialised skills and infrastructure for science, technology, and innovation programmes to support youth living with disabilities. This infrastructure should include accessible classrooms, laboratories, and computer rooms, as well as assistive technologies and software that enable youth with disabilities to fully participate in learning activities.

Finally, APET recommends that African governments strengthen their policy frameworks to support youth living with disabilities in accessing quality education. This includes the development of inclusive education policies that ensure that all youth, including those living with disabilities, have equal access to education.  African governments should also work to enforce anti-discrimination laws to protect the rights of youth living with disabilities. APET realises that investing in education can ensure an inclusive and prosperous future for all. African leaders are, therefore, challenged to act decisively and commit to investing in education to support the development of a skilled and competitive workforce that includes all members of society, regardless of their abilities.  This will contribute towards achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063……….the Africa We Want!


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