28.11.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

42% of African school children will drop out before the end of primary education

More African children start in school but many drop out early © UNESCO/Anne Müller

Sub-Saharan African countries are experiencing steady progress in education but children leave school, often without being able to read or write.

The latest edition of the Global Education Digest reveals that Africa has the world’s highest drop-out rate. 42% of African school children will leave school early, with about one in six leaving before Grade 2.

This means that more than two in five children who start school will not reach the last grade of primary education.

“The data in the Digest show that school systems are reaching more children but losing them due to inefficiencies, which lead to grade repetition and early school leaving, says Hendrik van der Pol, Director of UNESCO Institute for Statistics. "It is far more difficult and costly to reach children once they leave school than to address the barriers and bottlenecks in the systems,” he adds.

High repetition rates

Entitled Opportunities Lost: The Impact of Grade Repetition and Early School Leaving, the Digest presents a wide range of new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

It shows that in 2010, 11.4 million pupils repeated a primary grade in sub-Saharan Africa, representing more than one-third of the global total.

The regional repetition rate fell slightly, from 11% to 9% between 2000 and 2010, even though school systems have been straining to provide education to a growing school-age population.

This progress is clearly seen at the national level: In 1999, 15 African countries had repetition rates exceeding 20%, compared to only six countries in 2009.

The following countries have reduced their repetition rates by more than 10 percentage points since 1999: Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique and Rwanda.

Repetition rates are 4% or lower in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritius, Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania.

However, primary education repetition rates remain very high in Burundi (36%), Togo (23%), Chad (23%), Central African Republic (23%), and Congo (23%).

Households determine success in education

Many of the children repeating grades leave school before completing primary education.

Dropout rates are highest in Chad (72%), Uganda (68%) and Angola (68%), where more than two out of three children starting primary school are expected to leave before reaching the last grade. In contrast, dropout rates are lowest in Mauritius (2%) and Botswana (7%).

In countries such as Burundi or Togo, a child starting school today can expect to spend two or three years repeating a primary grade. In the case of Burundi, if the resources spent on repeating a grade were instead invested in enrolling new pupils, the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by 1.3%, according to the Digest.

Overall, it is estimated that each year of real education a child receives (not repeating a grade) could increase his/her individual earnings by 10% and lift annual GDP globally by 0.37%. Data show that the most important issues shaping educational opportunities are household wealth and location.

In general, poor children living in rural areas are more likely than urban children from rich households to repeat grades and leave school before completing primary education and attaining basic foundational skills.

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