Education in Africa


Education in Africa has been under threat for centuries. As much as 61 million children will not reach adolescence without being able to read, write, and perform simple numeracy tasks, the continent is ill-equipped to deal with this problem. In response, African governments have been cutting education budgets and issuing debt to keep them afloat. This situation is exacerbated by the global economic crisis.

61 million children will reach adolescence unable to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks

The Learning Barometer report, released by the Brookings Center for Universal Education, provides a window into Africa’s schools and reveals alarming trends. In Africa, one out of three children will not complete primary school. While the number has gone up in the last decade, learning levels among those who do attend school remain woefully inadequate. The report estimates that 61 million children in the region will enter adolescence unable to read, write, or perform basic numeracy tasks.

The UNESCO report revealed that six-in-ten children worldwide will not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading, writing or performing basic maths tasks by the time they reach adolescence. This is three times the population of Brazil. At least half of these children will be out of school by the time they reach adolescence.

Amnesty International calls for a review of how the education budget is distributed

A new report from the NGO Pratham Education, the leading provider of education services in Sri Lanka, finds that 60 percent of secondary school-age children are not enrolled in school. Minimum age to work in the country is lower than compulsory education age, which means children may be encouraged to leave school before they have completed their compulsory education. And despite the law prohibiting physical and psychological abuse against children, teachers often use corporal punishment, such as slapping students in the face or shaking them.

African governments are cutting education budgets in response to the pandemic

In the wake of the pandemic, African governments have been cutting education budgets. The global pandemic is already causing a fiscal shock compared to the last recession, but many states had recovered from the crisis in 2007-2009 and had built up rainy-day funds to deal with emergencies such as this. Still, it is not enough to counteract the impact of the pandemic on the local economy.

African governments are issuing debt to maintain education budgets

Traditionally, the poorest countries have had to use scarce resources to repay debt, and the economic crisis has made this process increasingly difficult. Debt-stress triggers vary across countries, but they include deteriorating fiscal and current account balances, falling aggregate demand and weak foreign exchange reserves. These problems are likely to worsen in the future as Africa’s population continues to grow. This debt-stress can be detrimental to public finances.

The FfD has launched a series of initiatives to encourage responsible borrowing and lending. Among them are measures to strengthen tax administration, curb illicit financial flows, and scale up infrastructure investment. The FfD’s recent conference in Addis Ababa focuses on these challenges. It’s a timely conversation as Africa struggles with poverty, low public debt, and intractive private finance. Several African countries have issued debt to finance their education budgets.

African countries have stagnated in development assistance levels for education in Africa

The poor educational attainment in Africa is largely due to a lack of resources and poor quality of instruction. According to the Brookings Institution, a US-based think tank, up to 50% of African students do not learn effectively. Moreover, UN assessments have shown that many children in Africa do not complete primary school or do not learn enough basic knowledge to succeed in life. Furthermore, many of these children suffer from respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

Despite a decrease in aid and FDI, African countries still receive significant amounts of development assistance from rich countries. For instance, the European Union is planning to allocate over $200 billion in aid to Africa’s private sector in an effort to improve the continent’s business climate and credit rating. The UN is also calling on rich countries to increase their development assistance levels to Africa, arguing that lack of resources hinder economic growth.

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