Adefunke Ekine: Using Education Diplomacy to overcome two challenges with one innovative solution

Education Diplomacy in Action Series

 

“It will take Education Diplomacy tools to bring the business world and government to the table together to reach a consensus on this achievable goal,” noted Dr. Adefunke Ekine when discussing how to achieve Education Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). Dr. Ekine, a lecturer at Tai Solarin University of Education in southwestern Nigeria, works to advance education opportunities for girls and women from early childhood to the university level. SDG4 includes targets for gender parity at all levels of education and therefore is directly tied to SDG5, the goal dedicated to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

Aware of the global imperative to close the gender gap in education and the particular local challenges of Nigeria, Dr. Ekine uses Education Diplomacy to solve issues of gender parity at the university level and in early childhood education. While closing the gender gap in education has been a priority for the global development community for years and some progress has been made, the Global Partnership for Education estimates that 61 million girls of primary and lower secondary school age are out of school (http://www.globalpartnership.org/focus-areas/girls-education). The global gender gap in tertiary education is even wider (http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/gender-parity-and-human-capital/).

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In Nigeria, one major challenge was finding ways to help female students who had become mothers continue their university education, since universities’ unwritten rules discouraged nursing mothers from bringing their babies into the lecture rooms. Another challenge concerns early childhood education, also targeted by Goal 4. Dr. Ekine points out that early childhood education receives a “paltry 5% of the education budget in my country,” and explains that “the critical nature of this early stage has not been widely accepted in Africa.” Therefore, she was motivated to bridge the divide between the education of mothers and healthy development of young children.

In 2014, after participating in the Brookings Institution’s Echidna Global Scholars fellowship, Dr. Ekine returned to Nigeria with the goal of helping her university management team “appreciate the plight of female students and female staff.” She leveraged her relationships with her colleagues, working with them to secure in-kind and cash donations to rent a space and convert it into a play center for infants and toddlers. When the university’s Vice Chancellor visited the space, she was impressed with the initiative and so donated a bigger building to serve as the university child care development center, which now accommodates five staff and 25-40 children. It also now serves as a “demonstration laboratory” for two university departments. The success of this initiative, in providing early childhood care and education while also allowing female students to continue their tertiary education, is best demonstrated in Dr. Ekine’s words:

Just last year, a 10-member committee was set up to see to the establishment of the first University School (preschool/elementary), where I served as the expert on childhood education. In the meantime, due to the patronage and services rendered for the community, the university is looking at having such centers located by each college/faculty . . . once the big structure can be put in place. This project has served as a stabilizing factor for young mothers who can now joyfully attend classes; even staff children are accommodated. It provides psycho-social support for the young toddlers as well as economic stability for the local caregivers.

Dr. Ekine and her team listened to the needs of their female students and leveraged their relationships to create a program that helps their local community achieve the global goals of gender parity in education and access to early childhood education. She believes Education Diplomats can lead by looking at the “total picture” when faced with an education challenge or issue, and considering the questions of “Who is at risk?,” “What are the issues and benefits?,” “What are the implications of the decision that must be made?,” and “Whose help are we seeking?” She shares the following Education Diplomacy advice for those facing a similar challenge:

Be humble enough to ask for help by collaborating, negotiating, or mediating in order to reach a consensus on what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Always remember that education is the key to all other sectors and so it will take all hands working together to achieve education goals.

Dr. Ekine also emphasizes the importance of maintaining ongoing relationships with the “right persons, organizations, political parties, or even bilateral donors for your voice to be heard.” She foresees that one of the biggest education challenges, that of increasing funding for education in developing countries, will require Education Diplomacy, specifically noting that

collaborative efforts from all stakeholders and reaching a consensus about budgeting [and] increasing funding on education will need soft skills of negotiating, developing strong relationships with funders (non-state actors) and state actors (Ministry of Education) and sharing agreement with government agencies at all levels to advance education policy.

Education Diplomacy uses the skills of diplomacy to bridge divides between sectors, diverse actors, and borders to address education challenges and move transformative education agendas forward. The practice of Education Diplomacy includes interactions that cultivate partnerships, create shared value, and shape consensus about mutually beneficial solutions that position education as a force for positive change in the world. Dr. Ekine’s work with female students and their children provided a “mutually beneficial solution” to the education challenges of gender parity in tertiary education and the provision of early childhood education. It became a model for the rest of her university, and she continues to use Education Diplomacy in her role as a lecturer; as the Deputy Director for Research and Innovation at the Directorate of Academic Planning, Quality Assurance, and Research in Nigeria; and as CE International’s country liaison for Nigeria.