Education in Africa Fails The Test

This month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that a top goal for the rest of his term is MDG 2, which is “to achieve universal primary education”. In order to meet this goal one policy could simply call for more schools and more teachers, but in Africa, the solution will be far from that simple.   During the Brookings panel, “The State of Learning in Africa”, Justin van Fleet explained that because the quality of education in many African schools is so poor, attending class has little or no impact on a child’s potential to learn basic reading and writing skills.  Along with Dr. van Fleet were panelists Lanre Akinola, editor of This Is Africa, a Financial Times publicationand Talya Bosch, Western Union vice president of social ventures.

To better measure the quality of education in Africa, the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education has created the “Africa Learning Barometer”. The barometer uses already-available data on enrollment, completion, learning, and inequality within schools in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to provide overall information on quality.

In this week’s presentation, van Fleet pointed out that sub-Saharan Africa’s future in education is bleak as the number of out-of-school children is expected to continue to increase. Furthermore, without reform, there is a possibility that 2/3 of the world’s out-of-school children will be African by 2025. Possibly even more disheartening than the lack of enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa is the ineffectiveness of national education systems.

Of the 57.6 million children who are categorized as “not learning” by the barometer, 40.6 million are enrolled students, meaning that 36.6% of students enrolled in school are not learning. The barometer uses cutoff points declared by the  Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Equality (SACMEQ), Program for Analyzing Education Systems of Confemen’s Countries Members (PASEC), and the National Examinations (cutoff points for these three evaluations are in the chart below).

Seven of the 28 countries assessed by the  barometer failed to educate 40% or more of their students. The effect of income was also observable in the data: 52.9% of children in poorest household were found to not be learning, compared to 10.5% in the wealthiest households.

Lanre Akinola mentioned that he was surprised by these estimates, as he had actually seen numbers that made the issue of education in Africa appear even more discouraging. Akinola believes one of the main issues in sub-Saharan African is that its “growth is not founded on real human capital”. Talya Bosch agreed that there has been an emphasis on extraction-based business to drive the region’s growth, but a lack of focus on education. Akinola  cited as African Economics Research Consortium study which observed 180 schools in Senegal and Tanzania and  found that teachers were absent 18% and 23% of the time respectively and that the average number of  instruction hours was three or less. Akinola also cited “resource leakage” in the pipeline from the central government to schools as a large hindrance to Africa’s prospects of effectively educating its population.

Though more research is still needed, recent studies on the quantity and quality of education have been effective in describing multi-faceted difficulties in reaching MDG2. The panelists hope that the Secretary- General’s initiative will take education off  the backburner  and encourage heads of state, businesses, and communities to more effectively address this issue.


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