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Lucubrate Magazine, February 20th, 2023
African countries are at different stages of their journeys to universal access at primary and secondary levels. In some countries, universal primary education will appear within reach by 2030, and efforts for lower secondary education have had notable success. In other countries, more than two-thirds of children do not complete primary education, suggesting that access even at the primary level calls for urgent and intense policy attention.
A report released February 18th 2023, reveals that although many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are taking significant steps to provide quality education for all, the region has the world’s largest out-of-school population.
The report, Education in Africa – Placing equity at the heart of policy, reveals that although many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are taking significant steps to provide quality education for all, the region has the world’s largest out-of-school population.
The report focuses on the following findings, among other things:
- Access to quality primary and secondary education
- Quality and learning in primary and secondary schools
- Skills for work: TVET and tertiary education
Access to quality primary and secondary education
African countries are at different stages of their journeys to universal access at primary and secondary levels.
Children from the poorest quintiles are far less likely to complete primary, lower, and upper secondary schooling than children from the wealthiest quintiles. The size of this gap increases at higher levels of education.
Gender disparities in completion rates vary across nations and regions, highlighting the diversity of factors that keep boys and girls from attending school and their variability across countries and age groups. The report highlights various government initiatives to address the wealth gap, including targeted efforts like the elimination of school fees, conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to increase enrolment and retention, the inclusion of pre-primary education in capitation grants, and accelerated readiness programme for children who have not benefitted from ECE before entering Grade 1.
Quality and learning in primary and secondary schools
Efforts to improve learning processes and outcomes must go hand-in-hand with curricular and pedagogical interventions. Patchwork reforms of only some building blocks (i.e., curriculum, pedagogy, teacher training, teaching/ learning materials, learning assessments) may not deliver the expected improvements in learning outcomes.
A streamlined, competency-based curriculum that ensures that pacing is responsive to student needs should be one of the pillars of these reforms. Likewise, it is also crucial to ensure that teachers have the necessary knowledge and skills and access to teaching and learning materials aligned with the curriculum and the desired pedagogy.
Skills for work: TVET and tertiary education
Yet, in nearly all African countries, the reality is that most young people will need to find or create employment in the informal sector, which is responsible for 86% of jobs across the continent. This challenge to find employment calls for seeing the interaction between education, training, and work as non-linear, contributing to identifying alternative processes and mechanisms to formal schooling that governments facilitate, regulate, and enhance. If formalized through diplomas, they could better reflect the dual reality of the low completion rate in legal education and its impact on acquiring foundational skills and skills for work.
At present, skills mismatch is prevalent in the labour market. This mismatch implies a need to move beyond job-specific expertise and focus on broader skills, including digital skills, foundational literacy-numeracy skills, and soft skills. Institutional bottlenecks (i.e., concerns related to budget allocation, policy coordination, and information flows) significantly limit the effectiveness of education and training in producing the skills needed in the labour market. More particularly, budget allocation decisions may be detached from the performance of TVET service providers, aggregate funding levels may not reflect the importance of TVET for economic growth, and institutional weaknesses may hinder the possibility of effective collaboration and coordination across ministries between public and private sector actors. Several governments have undertaken system-level reforms (e.g. competency-based training approach to TVET) and programme-level interventions (e.g. complementary training to strengthen soft skills) to reduce the skills mismatch.
Research also suggests that teachers’ impact on children’s lives goes beyond short-term academic achievement, extending to longer-term social and labour market outcomes. In contexts where schools serve as contact points for a wide range of services deemed critical for a child’s overall well-being (including nutrition, health, psychosocial support, and social assistance), teachers often facilitate the delivery of these services. More broadly, teachers and effective workforce policies are critical not only for quality education but also for it to be more equitable through personnel diversity, teacher allocation, and inclusive teaching practices:
- Diversity in the education workforce may affect disadvantaged children’s access to and learn in school.
- Teacher allocation and deployment also present major equity concerns. Teacher shortages are a problem in many countries, mainly in rural, remote, low-resourced, difficult-to-access, and conflict-affected areas.
- Although teachers’ knowledge of and use of inclusive teaching practices is vital for including children with disabilities in the learning process, there is a shortage of special education teachers. Only a few benefit from in-service training on inclusive education.
Prioritize Equal Opportunity in Education in Africa
African education systems were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effects on educational attainment, learning outcomes, and disparities in education are still unfolding. Even before the pandemic, only a handful of African countries were on track to meet the UN sustainable development goal of education.
The report calls on governments to strengthen education systems’ resilience to future crises by developing flexible forms of teaching, scaling up the use of digital technology, and improving data collection to inform policy planning better.
Lucubrate Magazine February 2023
The photo on the top of the article: Adobe Stock
It is all about access and quality