Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Education in Africa

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit


According to UNESCO's Regional overview on sub-Saharan Africa, in 2000 52% of children were enrolled in primary schools, the lowest enrollment rate of any region. UNESCO also reported marked gender inequalities: In most parts of Africa there is much higher enrollment by boys; in some there are more girls, due to sons having to stay home and tend to the family farm. Africa has more than 42 million children, almost half the school-age child population, receiving no schooling. Two-thirds of these are girls. The USAID Center reports that as of 2005, 40% of school-age children in Africa do not attend primary school and there are still 46 million school-age African children who have never stepped into a classroom.


The regional report produced by the UNESCO-BREDA education sector analyst team in 2005 indicates that less than 10% of African children are now allowed in the system. Four out of 10 children did not complete primary school in 2002/2003. So, five years after the World Education Forum and the adoption of the Millennium Goals, progress at primary level is far from decisive. The analysis highlights that principal efforts should be directed to reducing the number of dropouts per level. It appears also that geographical disparities (rural areas/urban areas) or economic disparities (low income households/wealthy households) are more significant and take longer to even out than gender disparities. From the quality point of view, studies such as SACMEQ (Southern and performance between and within countries.

This report also shows that secondary (lower and higher levels) and higher education enrollments have progressed proportionally more than primary enrollment over the period 1990–2002/2003 which questions the reality of policy priority given to primary education. The strong pressure for education continuity from the majority already benefiting from schooling explains this trend. To this must be added the weakness of mechanisms regulating pupil flow between the different levels of the education system.

In 2005, the inventory and trends show a definitive risk of not reaching universal primary enrollment by 2015. 14.7% of the world's population is in Africa.

The education systems inherited from the colonial powers were designed for the formal sector and public administration. However, ADEA (Association for the Development of Education in Africa) has become aware of the informal sector's relevance in developing countries, and thus recognized the need for increased vocational school training as a way to help the informal sector.

Language barriers

Due to high linguistic diversity, the legacy of colonialism and the need for knowledge of international languages such as English and French in employment and higher education, most schooling in Africa takes places in languages that teachers and pupils do not speak natively, and in some cases simply do not understand. There is considerable evidence that pupils schooled in a second language achieve poorer results than those schooled in their mother tongue, as lack of proficiency in the second language impairs understanding and encourages ineffective rote learning. Although UNESCO have recommended since the 1950s that children be taught early literacy in their mother tongue, progressing later to other languages, not all African countries implement this effectively. Even where the earliest grades are taught in the mother tongue, pupils are typically forced to switch to languages such as English and French before acquiring proficiency in these languages.

Lack of proper facilities and educators

Another reason for the low education rates in Africa is the lack of proper schooling facilities and unequal opportunity for education across countries. Many schools across Africa find it hard to employ teachers due to the low pay and lack of suitable people. This is particularly true for schools in remote areas. Most people who manage to receive education would prefer to move to big cities or even overseas where more opportunities and higher pay await. Thus, there will be an overly large class sizes and high average number of students per teacher in a school. Moreover, the teachers are usually those unqualified with few teaching aids and poor textbook provision. Due to this, children attending schools in rural areas usually attain poorer results in standardised tests compared to their urban counterparts. This can be seen in the reports given by the Northern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ). Those taking the tests in rural areas score much lower than those in small towns and big cities. This shows a lack of equal education opportunity given to children from different parts of the same country.

With teachers being less qualified than others in urban areas the teaching to learning environment takes an effect amongst the students. In one instance teachers took the same test as their students and three fourths of them had failed. In addition, those that do not receive the same education to those in the bigger cities have trouble even after graduation with reading, writing, and doing math. Students who do not attain the same equal education to those in urban environments do not achieve the same outcome in establishing success with a career. With education being a major concern towards achieving a career and establishing a future, Africa needs to be aware that equal education needs to be established within all schools throughout the countries.


Next, emigration leads to a loss of highly educated people and financial loss. The loss of skilled people can only be replaced with another huge cost which imply the loss of money spent educating people who leave and new people to replace them. Even though an almost 5.5% of GDP investment in education, the loss makes it difficult for the government to budget another amount in education as they will need to prioritize other needs such as military budget and debt servicing.

Military and conflict

Military spending is causing education spending to decrease immensely. According to a March 2011 report by UNESCO, armed conflict is the biggest threat to education in Africa. While the number of dropouts across the continent has been increasing dramatically, one of the influences of war and conflict on education is the diversion of public funds from education to military spending. An already underfunded system is losing more money. Twenty-one African countries have been identified as the highest spenders of gross domestic product on military globally compared with the amount directed toward education. Military and conflict also leads to the displacement of children. It often forces them to remain in camps or flee to their neighboring countries where education is not available to them.

Influential initiatives

Initiatives to improve education in Africa include:


  • NEPAD's E-school programme is an ambitious plan to provide internet and computer facilities to all schools on the continent.
  • SACMEQ is a consortium of 15 Ministries of Education in Southern and Eastern Africa which undertakes integrated research and training activities to monitor and evaluate the quality of basic education, and generates information that can be used by decision-makers to plan and improve the quality of education.
  • For 10 years, the Benin Education Fund (BEF) has provided scholarships and education support to students from the Atakora province in northeastern Benin. Over 450 students have been able to stay in school because of their programmes.
  • International

  • She's the First is a New York City, New York-based non-profit organization. The organization seeks to empower girls in Asia, Africa, and Latin America by facilitating the sponsorship of their education through creative and innovative means.
  • Working through local organizations, The African Children's Educational Trust is supporting thousands of youngsters with long-term scholarships and a community rural elementary schools building programme. It has built seven schools to date and is raising funds for more.
  • British Airways' "" project which, in collaboration with UNICEF, opened the model school Kuje Science Primary School in Nigeria in 2002.
  • The Elias Fund provides scholarships to children in Zimbabwe to get a better education.
  • The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in association with Humanity First, an international charity organisation, has built over 500 schools in the African continent and is running a 'learn a skill' initiative for young men and women.
  • Fast Track Initiative
  • The Volkswagen Foundation has been running a funding initiative called "Knowledge for Tomorrow – Cooperative Research Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa" since 2003. It provides scholarships for young African researchers and helps to establish a scientific community in African universities.
  • Corruption in education

    A 2010 Transparency International report, with research gathered from 8,500 educators and parents in Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda, found that education is being denied to African children in incredibly large numbers.

    A lack of parent involvement, especially as an overseer of government activities also leads to enormous corruption. This was most often found to be because parents and communities feel as though they lack any kind of power in regard to their child's education. In Uganda only 50% of parents believe that they have the power to influence decisions regarding the education of their child. In Morocco, just 20% of parents believed they held any sort of power.

    The unavailability and incompleteness of records in schools and districts prevents the documentation and prevention of corrupt practices. The African Education Watch conducted surveys all over the continent and identified the three most common practices of corruption:

  • Illegal collection of fees: One part of their research focused on so-called registration fees. Parents from every country surveyed reported paying even though, by law, primary schooling is free. The report found that the number of parents forced to pay these illegal accounting fees ranged from 9% in Ghana, to 90% in Morocco. An average of 44% of parents still report paying skill fees in the study. The average fee cost $4.16, a major expense for families in countries like Madagascar, Niger and Sierra Leone.
  • Embezzlement of school funds: In the study, Transparency International found that 64% of the schools surveyed on the continent published no financial information at all.
  • Power abuse: Another major problem is incompetent management. The report found that in many schools the little resources they did have were being wasted or lost. Overall, 85% of schools across all countries had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In Morocco, just 23% of head teachers received training in financial management, despite being responsible for budgets. The TI report found that there was sexual abuse in schools from teachers. The TI report also found that many schools were plagued by teacher absenteeism and alcoholism.
  • Without this basic education, the report found it was nearly impossible to go on to high school or college. African children are missing this link that allows them to have a chance in trade or to go beyond their villages.

    NGO involvement

    A report by USAID and the Bureau for Africa, Office of Sustainable Development, found that NGOs are increasingly participating in contribute to the delivery of education services, education policy decisions and are included by donors and government officials in many parts of the education system. Of course, this varies country to country and region to region.

    NGOs working in education in Africa often encountered tension and competition when working. Schools, parents and, most often government officials, feel threatened by third-party involvement and feel that they are "crashing the party." The report continues that for NGOs to be effective, they must understand that they do not have the same perspective as government officials as to who is in control. If they do not recognize the government of the country they are working in, they will compromise their objectives.

    The report goes into more detail about NGO relations with governments in education. The relationship is viewed from completely separate points. African governments see NGOs and their work as "an affair of government" or, in other words, working as a part and in collaboration with the country's government. NGOs on the other hand view themselves as very separate entities in African education. They see themselves fulfilling moral responsibility. They believe that they are identifying needs or areas of development in situations under which the government has ultimately been unaccountable and separately mobilizing resources toward those needs or development areas. Government and NGOs are hold contrasting beliefs about each other's abilities. Governments often think NGOs are unqualified to make important policy decision and that they could undermine their legitimacy if seen as superior. In some cases, NGOs have found government incompetent themselves, if not their own fault, as the fault of a lack of resources. In the best cases, NGOs and government officials find each other's mutual strengths in education policy and find ways to practically collaborate and reach both of their objectives.

    To be effective in education in Africa NGOs must effect policy and create policy changes that support their projects. NGOs also found that, to see this policy change that they are striving for, they must create and foster relationships with many different stakeholders. The most important stakeholders are usually donors and government officials. The biggest challenge for NGOs has been linking these networks together. NGO interventions to change policy have revealed that NGO programmes have failed to create a successful way to change the policy process while making sure that the public understands and is a part of education policy. This problem will prove more influential in the future if it is not solved.

    Women's education

    A positive correlation exists between the enrollment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy.

    In 2000, 93.4 million women in Sub-Saharan Africa were illiterate. Many reasons exist for why formal education for females is unavailable to so many, including cultural reasons. For example, some believe that a woman's education will get in the way of her duties as a wife and a mother. In some places in Africa where women marry at age 12 or 13, education is considered a hindrance to a young woman's development.

    Women's education is sometimes corrupted by sexual violence. Sexual violence against girls and female students affects many African education systems. In Sub-Saharan Africa, sexual violence is one of the most common and least known forms of corruption.

    Disparity in Education

    While most of the Millennium Development Goals face a deadline of 2015, the gender parity target was set to be achieved a full ten years earlier - an acknowledgement that equal access to education is the foundation for all other development goals. Gender disparity is defined as inequalities of some quantity attributed to the reason of gender type. In countries where resources and school facilities are lacking, and total enrollments are low, a choice must often be made in families between sending a girl or a boy to school. Of an estimated 101 million children not in school, more than half are girls. However, this statistic increased when examining secondary school education. In high-income countries, 95% as many girls as boys attend primary and secondary schools. However, in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is just 60%.

    The foremost factor limiting female education is poverty. Economic poverty plays a key role when it comes to coping with direct costs such as tuition fees, cost of textbooks, uniforms, transportation and other expenses. Wherever, especially in families with many children, these costs exceed the income of the family, girls are the first to be denied schooling. This gender bias decision in sending females to school is also based on gender roles dictated by culture. Girls usually are required to complete household chores or take care of their younger siblings when they reach home. This limits their time to study and in many cases, may even have to miss school to complete their duties. It is common for girls to be taken out of school at this point. Boys however, may be given more time to study if their parents believe that the education will allow them to earn more in the future. Expectations, attitudes and biases in communities and families, economic costs, social traditions, and religious and cultural beliefs limit girls’ educational opportunities.

    Additionally, in most African societies, women are seen as the collectors, managers, and guardians of water, especially within the domestic sphere that includes household chores, cooking, washing, and child rearing. Because of these traditional gender labor roles, women are forced to spend around sixty percent of each day collecting water, which translates to approximately 200 million collective work hours by women globally per day and a decrease in the amount of time available for education, shown by the correlation of decrease in access to water with a decrease in combined primary, secondary, and tertiary enrollment of women.

    Whatever the underlying reason(s) are,about having large numbers of girls outside the formal schooling system brings developmental challenges to both current and future generations . According to the UNESCO, the rates of female children out of primary school is higher than that of male children in all the African countries where data is available. Until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability. Millions of children and women will continue to die needlessly, placing the rest of the development agenda at risk.


    In Africa and the Arab world, promoting gender equality and empowering women is perhaps the most important of the eight Millennium Development Goals. The target associated with achieving this goal is to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary enrollment preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015. Women deserve the instrumental effects of gender equality in education and the intrinsic dimension of female education; which in essence derives from the role of education in enhancing a woman’s set of capabilities. Thus, in theory, there is a direct effect from female education to income (or growth). Education, especially for girls, has social and economic benefits for society as a whole. Women earn only one tenth of the world’s income and own less than one percent of property, so households without a male head are at special risk of impoverishment. These women will also be less likely to immunize their children and know how to help them survive. Women who are educated tend to have fewer and healthier children, and these children are more likely to attend school. Higher female education makes women better-informed mothers and hence could contribute to lowering child mortality rates and malnutrition. In Africa, limited education and employment opportunities for women reduce annual per capita growth by 0.8%. Had this growth taken place, Africa’s economies would have doubled over the past 30 years. It is estimated that some low-income countries in Africa would need up to $23.8 billion annually to achieve the Millennium Development Goal focused on promoting gender equality and empowering women by 2015. This would translate from $7to $13 per capita per year from 2006 to 2015, according to OECD-DAC. Education is also key to an effective response to HIV/AIDS. Studies show that educated women are more likely to know how to prevent HIV infection, to delay sexual activity and to take measures to protect themselves. New analysis by the Global Campaign for Education suggests that if all children received a complete primary education, the economic impact of HIV/AIDS could be greatly reduced and around 700,000 cases of HIV in young adults could be prevented each year—seven million in a decade. According to the Global Campaign for Education, "research shows that a primary education is the minimum threshold needed to benefit from health information programmes. Not only is a basic education essential to be able to process and evaluate information, it also gives the most marginalized groups in society—notably young women—the status and confidence needed to act on information and refuse unsafe sex."

    Current policies of Progression

    The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and acceded to by 180 States, sets down rights for women, of freedom from discrimination and equality under the law. CEDAW has realized the rights and equality of woman is also the key to the survival and development of children and to building healthy families, communities and nations. Article 10 pinpoints nine changes that must be changed in order to help African women and other women suffering from gender disparity. It first states, their must be the same conditions for careers, vocational guidance, and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories in rural as well as in urban areas. This equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training. Second, is access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality. Third, is the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education. This is encouraged by coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programmes and the adaptation of teaching methods. Fourth, the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants. Similarly, fifth is the same opportunities of access to programmes of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes, particularly those aimed at reducing, at the earliest possible time, any gap in education existing between men and women. Sixth, is the reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmes for girls and women who have left school prematurely. Seventh concern listed is the same opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education. Lastly, is access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.

    Other global goals echoing these commitments include the World Education Forum’s Dakar platform, which stresses the rights of girls, ethnic minorities and children in difficult circumstances; and A World Fit for Children’s emphasis on ensuring girls’ equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality. In April 2000 more than 1,100 participants from 164 countries gathered in Dakar, Senegal, for the World Education Forum. Ranging from teachers to prime ministers, academics to policymakers, non-governmental bodies to the heads of major international organizations, they adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments. The goal is education for all as laid out by the World Conference on Education for All and other international conferences. Between 1990 and 1998 the net enrollment of boys increased by 9 per cent to 56 per cent, and of girls by 7 per cent to 48 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. However, these figures mask considerable regional variations. In countries of the Indian Ocean, both girls and boys attained over 70 per cent net enrollment. The most outstanding progress in terms of percentage increase of boys' enrollment was in East Africa, where the net enrollment of boys increased by 27 per cent (to 60 per cent) and of girls by 18 per cent (to 50 per cent). For girls in Southern Africa, the comparable figures for girls were 23 per cent (to 76 per cent) and for boys, 16 per cent (to 58 per cent). This is the resurgence of a vibrant Africa, rich in its cultural diversity, history, languages and arts, standing united to end its marginalization in world progress and development. A prosperous Africa, where the knowledge and the skills of its people are its first and most important resource.

    The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) announces a call for the second round of research proposals from research institutions for its Strengthening Gender Research To Improve Girls’ And Women’s Education In Africa initiative. The initiative, which is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), promotes girls and women’s education through the integration of gender into education policy and practice in sub-Saharan Africa. FAWE believes it is vital to invest in research in Africa as way producing current information for advocacy in education policy. This three-year research initiative aims to work collaboratively with established research institutions to produce pertinent and robust research. That can be used to constructively engage government, policy makers and other regional bodies on strategies to advance girls' education in Africa. Findings from the research will be used to inform FAWE’s advocacy work and help redress gender inequities that hinder women's fulfillment of their right to education and meaningful participation in Africa’s social and economic advancement.

    Recommendations for reform

  • Government review and regulate school and district financial record-keeping.
  • More comprehensive training of head teachers and administrators in economical administration.
  • Regular government inspection of schools.
  • Encourage parents to complain or fight against schools fees and proactively help parents to know their rights.
  • Empower and mobilize local watchdog organizations such as parent-teacher organizations and school-management committees.
  • Improve teacher compensation.
  • Recommendations for higher education reform

  • Curriculum reform geared towards entrepreneurial skills and jobs in the private sector.
  • Greater emphasis on locally-relevant diploma and certificate programs, instead of overproducing university graduates.
  • References

    Education in Africa Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    Are These Our Children
    Return of the Bastards
    Paul McBeth