» Inadequate school and teaching resources challenge education in Sub-Saharan Africa
31.05.2012 - UNESCOPRESS

Inadequate school and teaching resources challenge education in Sub-Saharan Africa

© UNESCO/M. Hofer - Overcrowded classroom in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Overcrowded classrooms, too few trained teachers, insufficient schoolbooks and few toilets, often without separation between boys and girls: these are some of the problems facing primary school students in Sub-Saharan Africa. A statistical survey of school and teaching resources in the region by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) highlights these challenges which undermine children’s chances to succeed in their studies*.

The UIS survey shows that a child in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to study in an overcrowded classroom that can number as many as 67 pupils in Chad, for example, compared to fewer than 30 in OECD countries. Moreover, many classes in the region are multi-grade, grouping children of different levels of education. In most cases, classes group two grades, but in Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali and Niger classes are reported to cover three or more grades.

            The first grades are usually the most overcrowded. This is a source of concern considering it has been established that these are the most crucial years for the future of pupils. Thus, in Madagascar, Rwanda, Chad and Togo, there are at least 20 more pupils on average in the first grade than in the last. In Chad, first year classes number an average of 85 students. “The situation found in Chad is of particular concern,” according to the survey, “since studies have shown that in the African context classes exceeding 70 pupils have a negative effect on children’s learning.”

            Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to face a great increase in the demand for teachers due to the steady rise in the number of pupils. Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger need to more than double their teaching staffs by 2015 if they are to provide primary education to all children. More than two million additional teachers will have to be recruited to meet growing demand in the region and replace teachers who retire or leave education. Among the 38 countries (of 45 in the region) which will need to expand, this represents an increase equal to more than three-quarters of the current teaching force.

            The UIS presents data concerning the number of teachers who have received minimum training. These graduates are generally considered to be fully qualified. By comparing the number of graduates from accredited teacher-training programmes with the total number in the teaching workforce in public primary schools, it is possible to assess the efficiency of education systems to train teachers while attempting to meet the rising demand for teachers. Efficiency varies considerably from country to country. In Togo, for example, new graduates barely account for 3% of teachers.  In Madagascar, the percentage rises to 22 and 15 percent in Angola, Cameroon, Congo and Malawi.

Another finding concerns the insufficient supply of reading and mathematics textbooks which obliges pupils to share books. The situation is particularly bad in the Central African Republic where eight learners must share one reading and mathematics textbook. In Cameroon, there is on average one reading textbook for eleven pupils and one mathematics book for 13 children.

Many schools in Sub-Saharan Africa have limited, or no, access to basic services such as drinking water, toilets and electricity. The absence of clean, safe and separate toilets for boys and girls tends to discourage children, particularly girls, from attending school regularly. Yet, these shortages are the rule among public primary schools in the region. Shortages are particularly severe in five countries: Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger where at least 60% of schools have no toilets. Schools in Mauritius and Rwanda on the other hand are well equipped with separate-sex toilets.

It is to be noted that in most countries, more school have toilets than access to drinking water. But there are exceptions such as Mauritius and Rwanda where all schools have both toilets and drinking water. In Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Madagascar, more schools provide access to drinking water than to toilets. Most primary schools are not connected to the electric grid. In Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Malawi, Niger and Togo, 80% of school have no electricity.


*Data were collected from 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as part of an initiative designed to better meet regional needs for education indicators and analyses. It was launched in partnership with the Pan African Institute of Education for Development (IPED) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). This is the first study of this type. It will be updated yearly.

More information on the survey

Media contact : Agnès Bardon,

UNESCO Press Service in Paris,+33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64,UNESCO Institute for Statistics in Montréal:

Jennifer Morrow, +514 343 75 29

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