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Meet Lucy Heady and Pauline Essah of ESSA – Education Sub Saharan Africa


ESSA (Education Sub Saharan Africa) is a non-profit organisation located in the UK whose missionstarts with universities and colleges, using data and evidence to drive the change needed for a dramatic improvement in education for young people in Sub Saharan Africa. It was set up with a grant from the Robert Bosch foundation and receives financial support from several philanthropic donors. ESSA wants to create high quality education to help Africa’s young people achieve their ambitions and become good citizens. It sees universities as the training grounds to achieve this. ESSA uses data to look at the gaps between universities and employment, and how good quality scholarships can help narrow this gap to stop this generation of young people from being left behind.

There are currently twelve million graduates a year out of Africa, but only three million can find employment. Even in countries like Ghana where there is a national service iwhich has the potential to help develop young peoples’ skills, the transition to work isn’t easy for many graduates. Conversely, organisations find it difficult to recruit people with the skills they need for work. Universities often operate as knowledge organisations rather than training organisations, and so there is a skills gap for many young people in Africa as well as globally.

ESSA maps the scholarships available in Sub Saharan Africa. This data can impact policy and create action in order to reform the system and change lives. ESSA has six key performance indicators that they measure such as how scholarships are awarded and who has access to these; the number of places available, including for women, refugees and people in rural areas; and what happens to graduates after they leave education. Pauline and Lucy believe that it is important to follow scholarship opportunities through to create the most impact and also for students to be involved in the reform process. There are many systemic challenges operating in the scholarship system currently, including the trickle down of power and the desire for mutually beneficial scholarships. This mirrors many of the issues currently occurring within International Development and Aid today.

The episode also discusses Lucy’s and Pauline’s personal academic and career journeys and how this has impacted upon their work at ESSA. Lucy has a physics background. Her keen curiosity in paradoxes and the intricacies of electrons at the quantum level, has transformed into an interest in the complexities of social structures and impacts. This is what led her to the field of International Development, and education in particular.  Pauline studied in Ghana and has lived there for most of her life. She travelled a lot growing up, and her encounters with inequality in the places that she visited had a lasting impact upon her career path. Pauline attended the University of Ghana for her undergraduate degree where she studied agriculture with a focus in crop science in her final year. She attended Cambridge university for her master’s and PHD, and then went on to do a Postdoc. Her time in further education gave her valuable experience in finding scholarships and taught her about the importance of hard work, good grades and high-quality references. This knowledge is extremely valuable for her work at ESSA. They both laugh about how they have spent far too long in education, but it has certainly had an impact on how they think about the world and their contributions to ESSA.

Finally, Helen, Lucy and Pauline discuss the future of employment in Africa. They agree that a changing economy needs to be reflected in growth of data experts, the creative sciences and workers in the Green Economy. Pauline uses her experience to argue for the agricultural potential of Africa, particularly mechanized agriculture.

Although ESSA is not part of the HALI Access Network, there is much cross over in its desire to improve Africa through education.

Follow the link to listen to the full podcast


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