Chiba woman wages multi-decade quest to train teachers in Africa



A Japanese woman has devoted herself to improving the quality of education in Africa for more than three decades.

After a long career on the continent, Yumiko Yokozeki, 58, was chosen last April to lead the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s International Institute for Capacity Building based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Yokozeki is the first non-African director of the institute, whose mission is to lay the groundwork for teacher education in Africa, since it was established in 1999, when Japanese diplomat Koichiro Matsuura was director-general of UNESCO.

“I was appointed apparently because I am Japanese and they believe Japanese are all diligent and take action without words,” she said in an interview.

Yokozeki, who hails from Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, first went to Africa in 1981 to work as a volunteer teacher in Kenya. She also served as a senior education adviser for the Japan International Cooperation Agency for 17 years.

She said that schooling for African children can be easily interrupted by wars and epidemics, like the Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa in 2014.

“Some areas in Africa are so dangerous that children cannot get an education,” she said. “Even where no classrooms are available, however, education can be offered as long as there are students and teachers.”

Yokozeki stressed that training competent teachers is essential for classes to be continued under any circumstances.

Over the past year, Yokozeki has led about 20 officials as head of the institute and undertaken projects she had drafted based on her longtime grass-roots work, while striving to raise funds to finance them.

“People get a sense of normalcy when classes are conducted,” she said. “School can constitute the center of a community.”

Citing the forthcoming sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development set to take place in Nairobi in August, Yokozeki said, “I will work to show Japan’s presence (in the field of assistance).”

This TICAD will be the first ever held in Africa. It is cosponsored by the Japanese government, the United Nations and the African Union and has been held in Japan every five years since 1993.