21.11.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Education in Africa: Best progress so far

Participants at the EFA Conference © Samuel Fernández Diekert

Never in African history has so much been achieved in education over such a short period of time and governments are legitimately proud of their achievements. But the gap between the have and have-nots in education remains too large.

This is the conclusion of the Sub-Saharan Africa 2012 Education for All Report to be presented at the Global Education for All Meeting in Paris (France) on 21-23 November 2012.

The report is the result of the discussions that took place during the Africa Education for All Conference from 16-19 October 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Across Sub Saharan Africa, there is a general awareness that the last decade has witnessed unprecedented progress in the development of education," says Zulmira Rodrigues, Education Coordinator for Africa in UNESCO's Regional Office in Dakar.

The figures speak for themselves: 

  • Net Enrollment Ratio in primary education had increased from 58% in 1999 to 76% by 2010 and the Gender parity index from 0.85 to 0.93 over the same period of time.
  • Enrollment in secondary education more than doubled from 20.8 million to 43.7 million to grasp the full significance of the dividends yielded by the Education for All effort across the region within a decade.

Few countries to meet the goals

Despite the great achievements however, very few countries in the sub Saharan African region will reach the Education for All goals by the year 2015. The international community set the goals in 2000 during the World Education Forum in Dakar.

While the prospects are positive for Universal Primary Education and Gender equality, the challenges are particularly daunting for the remaining four goals, namely early childhood care and education, youth and adult skills, adult literacy and the issue of quality.

Here again the figures from Africa speak for themselves:

  • 31 million children are out of school
  • 35% of the youth has no access to secondary education or technical skills development
  • 163 adults are illiterate

In terms of the quality of education the situation is daunting: 

36% of the children in eastern and southern Africa reaching the minimum required level of maths competences against 43% in central and west Africa

35% of children in west and central Africa acquire the minimum level of reading at the end of primary education against 64% of the children in eastern and southern Africa.

Regional differences

“The gaps are simply too large and with the decreasing international assistance to education, resources are just not enough to bridge the differences,” comments Rodrigues. “Urgent action is needed to improve the quality of education in sub-Saharan Africa."

The Johannesburg conference gave some 150 participants from 34 African countries the opportunity to reflect on the achievements, debate the challenges and initiate a process for the identification of possible areas of engagement for the remaining three years. They also started the reflection on the implications for the post 2015 agenda.

In addition, Rodrigues says, it was "an opportunity to acknowledge the diversity between and within sub-regions. We just cannot continue to think about Africa as a whole, but need a more diversified agenda and related target setting for education development in Africa ".

Acceleration priorities

Participants decided that additional efforts are needed before the deadline of 2015 and identified the following acceleration priorities:

  1. All countries choose quality as one of the key areas for engagement for the next three years and most of them say to emphasize the need to focus on teachers.
  2. Different regions set different priorities: Eastern and southern Africa countries choose to focus on early childhood care and education, and central and west African countries focus on improving the unfinished business of Universal Primary Education.

Regarding the post 2015 education agenda definition, the African countries agreed on the following global priorities:

  • All countries invariably consider quality as the key priority for the post 2015 agenda. Most of them in a context of an expanded vision of basic education for all that should go from one year of pre-primary across to the lower secondary school cycle.
  • A large number of countries place skills development of young people, tuned to the world of work, as the following priority for the medium and long term development of education. o Aligned with its current situation, ECCAS countries place great importance to improving access as well.

Dwindling resources

It was recommended the set up of regional and sub-regional multi-stakeholder EFA coordination committees, aligned with the continental and regional education inter-governmental structures of the Africa Union and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

It was also agreed that in that regard, an alignment of the 2nd decade of education of the AU with the EFA goals is desired.

"To accelerate EFA progress towards 2015 requires the EFA thrust within countries to be better resourced," adds Rodrigues.

African ministries of education welcome the Education First initiative of the UN Secretary General, but note the reported drop in external aid to education in the region in the wake of the global economic downturn.

They call for the development partners to respect international commitments to support EFA.




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