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World Teachers Day

Teachers play a crucial role in education and deserve recognition and support, including access to digital tools and training. Airtel Africa is collaborating with UNICEF to empower teachers and students in Africa through connectivity and training programs. Investment in education and teacher education is essential for improving learning outcomes. Other corporate organizations and tech companies should also invest in teacher education and establish award platforms to recognize outstanding teachers.

Teachers are undeniably essential to the education process. When we consider the connection between teaching and learning, it becomes evident that teachers hold the highest importance because they play a vital role in facilitating education.

The ecosystem of education, consisting of children, parents, teachers, government, writers, publishers, and technology innovators, is brought to life by teachers. They not only facilitate learning but also provide guidance and inspiration to learners. In some cases, teachers have even had a greater impact on a child's development than their own parents. They create a supportive environment both inside and outside the classroom, fostering learning and growth. Personally, I often wonder where I would be today without the caring and supportive intervention of my teachers throughout my academic journey. Teachers truly are great mentors.

On World Teachers Day, it is important to remember and pay tribute to our teachers, not just in Africa but across the world. Many teachers do incredible work, often without sufficient pay or recognition. There is a saying that "Teachers' reward is in heaven," but this statement is unfortunate. Teachers, like any other professionals, have responsibilities such as providing for their own families and ensuring their children have shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, and other necessities of life. Teachers deserve to be rewarded and acknowledged, both in this life and the next. This tribute is my small token of appreciation and recognition for the crucial role that teachers have played in my life, as well as in the lives of current and future leaders in politics and business.

As the American historian Henry Adams rightly stated, "A teacher affects eternity; he (she) can never tell where his (her) influence stops." My primary school teacher, Mrs. Ala, probably never imagined that her efforts in making me fall in love with mathematics would be the driving force behind my journey to become a science student, an Electrical/Electronics Engineer, a Chartered Accountant, and the Chief Executive of a telecommunications company operating in 14 African countries. This is the extent and strength of a teacher's influence. As beneficiaries of their patience, dedication, and support, we must never take them for granted and should always remember their service to us.

Over the years, teaching and learning have undergone significant changes in methodology, particularly with the introduction of modern technology. This has completely transformed education as we knew it. Digital technology, including the internet, data-enabled devices, and online resources, has become an integral part of modern education. These digital tools and internet connectivity provide teachers and learners with vast resources that make research, teaching, and learning much easier. Additionally, they bridge the educational gap between advanced and developing countries, as well as between privileged and disadvantaged children, especially those in hard-to-reach locations.

However, there has been an imbalance in empowering children with devices and internet connectivity while neglecting the important role of teachers in supporting learners. It is crucial to provide teachers with access to the internet and digital devices. Furthermore, they must receive continuous training on how to effectively use these resources because one cannot give what they do not have. For effective global collaboration between teachers and students in Africa and their peers worldwide, teachers must be motivated, equipped, and empowered.

I am proud to share that Airtel Africa, as part of our $57 million collaboration with UNICEF, is empowering both children and their teachers in the countries where we operate. In addition to providing devices, connecting schools to the internet, and zero-rating online learning platforms, we are training teachers on how to utilize these modern educational resources to educate Africa's future leaders. For example, in Tanzania, we have trained over 2500 teachers in preparation for connecting 50 schools, while also providing desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart television sets. Similar initiatives are being implemented in other countries as well. Eventually, Airtel Tanzania aims to cover all 5000 schools in the country and train all the teachers.

During a recent visit to one of the schools supported by Airtel Africa in Nigeria, I was delighted to witness how our contribution has enhanced teaching and learning. Teachers assisted their students in accessing lessons on the Nigerian Learning Platform (NLP). The NLP also provides online training series for teachers, peer review, and continuous assessment modules. This is the right direction for education to realistically transform the lives of children and promote early-stage innovation.

We recognize the crucial role of teachers in the education ecosystem and continue to seek partnerships to expand the scope of our intervention. The Covid-19 pandemic has ironically highlighted the deficiencies in education systems across Africa, including infrastructure, funding, and curricula. Many governments are now addressing these issues to varying degrees of success. The gaps identified during the pandemic have inspired Airtel Africa's decision to invest in the digitization of education with UNICEF, the most experienced international organization in matters affecting children.

A World Bank study on the Learning Poverty rate in sub-Saharan Africa reveals that only one out of every ten children aged 1-10 years can write and solve basic mathematical problems. This dire situation cannot be reversed without highly skilled, trained, and motivated teachers. While I celebrate all teachers on their day, I also call on governments to invest more in education, particularly in teacher education. The annual budgetary allocation to education should aim to achieve the 20% recommended by the United Nations. Additionally, policymakers should consider removing all barriers to digitizing education systems, including exempting data and digital devices from duty and taxes. Several countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, and Madagascar, have made progress in this regard.

Finally, I urge other corporate organizations, especially tech companies, to invest in teacher education and empowerment. It may also be beneficial to establish credible award platforms to identify and recognize teachers who excel in their duty. This would foster a greater sense of accountability and pride among teachers. Once again, I celebrate African teachers today and always!

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