Education participation rates in Africa are rising, with some caveats


September 18, African Union, in collaboration with the The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released the report, “Transforming education in Africa», A factual overview of education in the region. The report highlights the progress made by the continent on education indicators, such as participation rates, while also illustrating the challenges that remain. With Africa having the youngest population in the world (nearly 800 million Africans are under 25, of whom 677 million are between 3 and 24 years old), accelerating investment in education is vital for countries make full use of their human capital.

Overall, the report reveals both progress and setbacks in education in the region. For example, although Africa has made progress in increasing children’s participation in school (Figure 1), the authors assume that the absolute number of out-of-school children has in fact increased since 2010, given rapid population growth.

Figure 1. Share of out-of-school children in Africa, by age group

Source: “Transforming Education in Africa”, African Union, 2021.

Specifically, according to the report, approximately 42 million children of primary and secondary school age are not enrolled in school. Regionally, West Africa has the highest number of out-of-school children: 2 out of 5 out-of-school children in sub-Saharan Africa live in West Africa (Figure 2). East Africa follows with 34 percent of African children out of school.

Figure 2. Distribution of out-of-school children of primary and secondary school age in Africa by region

Figure 2. Distribution of out-of-school children of primary and secondary school age in Africa by region

Source: “Transforming Education in Africa”, African Union, 2021.

More specifically, in West Africa, 27% of children of primary school age, 37% of children of secondary school age and 56% of children of secondary school age were not in school in 2019.

The report states that bottlenecks and obstacles to improving education include policies and legal frameworks and conflicts and security. Specifically, in policies and legal frameworks, the authors state that although basic education is generally compulsory, legal measures for implementation are lacking, which creates a mismatch between expected learning outcomes and effective implementation of cost-effective interventions. Barriers to demand, such as the imbalance between education and labor requirements, can prevent children from attending school regularly, hampering improvement in education. On the supply side, teacher shortages can lead to large classrooms where child-centered learning is difficult. Finally, situations of conflict and insecurity, especially when educational institutions are targeted, prevent children from accessing learning.

To fight against these barriers, the authors recommend, among other actions, investigate the underlying reasons for individuals not participating in education to design policies, invest in the development of more resilient education systems and improve education data and management information systems. The authors claim that a significant number of students drop out of school. Studying the reasoning behind this could help create policies that motivate students to stay in school. To address the lack of resilience of education systems, the authors argue that taking a holistic approach that includes tools for assessment, management, monitoring and evaluation will help ensure that education systems operate continuously. Finally, the authors assert that factual information is essential to the progress of education systems and thus encourages further research.

For the full report, see here. Also see “Improving Learning and Life Skills for Marginalized Children: Scaling the Learner Guide Program in Tanzania” by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education for more on innovations in this area. education in the region.


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