West and central Africa: Planning education for better health and well-being 

03 January 2023


©Nataly Reinch/Shutterstock.com
High school students graduating in Accra, Ghana.

A critical mass of education officers across west and central Africa have developed new capacities to make progress on improving health and education outcomes for all. Nearly 160 education officers from 11 countries finished a regional capacity development programme – hosted by UNESCO with technical support from IIEP – to integrate health and well-being indicators into their Education Management Information Systems (EMIS).

First launched in April 2021, the programme was designed to build capacities for data collection, data analysis, and reporting in EMIS to monitor and evaluate the delivery of health and well-being education for all.

Now, each of the participating countries has incorporated the core indicators for health and well-being into their annual school census instruments. Additionally, all countries have collected data, and most have analyzed and reported on it.

“Thanks to this training, we have integrated indicators to monitor the SDG 4 indicator on the percentage of schools that provide life skills-based HIV education.”
- A member of the national team from Côte D’Ivoire

The task now is to use this data and to share it with policy-makers so that each of the region’s countries can take the necessary steps to scale up effective programmes, so that every child in west and central Africa receives a quality education that will enable them to not only survive but thrive.

“Evidence from our analysis suggests that education plays a critical role in national multi-sectoral responses to prevent early and unwanted pregnancies, HIV and AIDS, and gender-based violence,” said Koffi Segniagbeto, head of the IIEP UNESCO Dakar Office during the programme’s virtual closing ceremony in December 2022.

Promoting health and well-being and developing skills and attitudes can help learners lead healthy lives and make informed choices in safe, inclusive, and equitable learning environments. In addition, learners have better access to education, higher completion rates, and better learning outcomes.

“But we need reliable data to better understand and measure and monitor the national responses put in place,” said Segniagbeto. “Hence, the key role of EMIS, the traditional primary source of administrative data on education.”

Since the programme’s start, the national teams joined 18 monthly virtual workshops, received technical assistance from IIEP, and benefited from resources and guidelines on the IIEP training platform. A technical workshop was also held in July 2022 in Kinshasa, Congo, giving the participants an opportunity to work face-to-face on improving EMIS data collection tools to help them collect reliable and valid data on core indicators of health and well-being.

“The progress made by the west and central African region is important and encouraging for the future. Indeed, the global indicators of health and well-being are integrated into the EMIS of the 11 countries,” said Segniagbeto, while noting that some challenges remain such as the quality of the data collected and the use and communication of these data to guide educational policies.

“We cannot stand idly by”

Building on these successes will remain important as the region continues to grapple with health disparities. In west and central Africa, young girls continue to face the triple threat of disproportionate new HIV infections, early pregnancies, and gender-based violence. “This has devastating effects on physical and mental health, quality of education, academic performance, and long-term educational outcomes,” said Guillaume Husson, Chief of the Education Section of the UNESCO Office in Dakar. “We cannot stand idly by.”

Nearly four decades since the discovery of HIV, and despite decades of progress, Husson stressed that adolescent girls in the region account for 78% of new cases. More than one in seven girls are also married by the age of 14 or younger.

“It is our duty towards the young people of this region to ensure that data reflecting progress in addressing their most pressing educational needs are available and are used to improve programmes designed to give them the best possible path towards good health, gainful employment, and peaceful communities,” Husson said.

With technical support from IIEP, this regional capacity-building programme was implemented by UNESCO under the auspices of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O³), the Organization's flagship programme for health and well-being education.

The 11 participating countries included Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.

During the programme's virtual closing ceremony in December 2022, representatives from the 11 participating countries gathered to evaluate and reflect on two years of progress from the programme in their countries.