Significant progress in primary enrolment. More needed to improve quality and equity of access and ensure education addresses needs of the wider labour market.
Africa: The African Union has acknowledged the primary role of education in human development through a series of founding statements. African governments have signed up to the Education for All (EFA) programme of action and have committed to developing costed plans to achieve EFA goals, supported by the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) – renamed the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2011. The Second Decade of Education for Africa (2006-2015) has built on gaps identified in the first education plan, moving beyond primary school enrolment to a more holistic approach to education including gender, teacher development, tertiary and vocational education.
What has been done to deliver on these commitments?
Africa: Domestic resources across the majority of sub-Saharan African countries have been scaled-up, notwithstanding the food, fuel and financial crises. Public spending in primary education, while varying across countries, averaged 4.6% of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009. While below the 7-9% spending targets set in EFA, expenditure as proportion of government budgets are among the highest in the world. Primary education accounts for almost half of government education expenditures. In 2011, the African Union (AU) launched the Pan African University in line with its commitment to strengthen tertiary education. Twenty-six African countries have had their national education plans endorsed by FTI, 2 more than in June 2010.
What results have been achieved?
Net primary enrolment in Africa has increased by 20 percentage points over the decade, reaching 84% in 2009. Despite increasing populations of school-aged children, absolute numbers of out-of-school children fell from 42 million to 29 million between 2000 and 2009. Out of 35 African countries, 17 had achieved net enrolment ratios over 90% by 2009, with seven reaching the 2015 target of 95%.
Completion rates have not kept pace and the regional average remains less than 70%. Late entry for primary school students remains a challenge, exacerbating non-completion of primary school cycles. Inequities still constrain progress to completion and higher enrolment, particularly for refugees, rural populations, girls and low income groups. Girls in the poorest 20% of households are 3.5 times more likely to be out of school than girls in the highest income groups and four times more than boys in the higher income groups.
Gender parity in primary education is, however, improving. 16 countries had already reached parity by 2009 and targets are likely to be achieved by most countries (see also Promoting gender equality and women's empowerment). In sub-Saharan Africa 92 girls, and in North Africa, 95 girls were enrolled for every 100 boys in 2009, advancing progress towards the gender parity target of 97-103 girls per 100 boys.
Results beyond primary education are more modest. While secondary enrolment rates have increased from 24% to 34% over 2000-09, they remain almost half that of the global average. Similarly, tertiary enrolment is low and near static, increasing from 5% to 6% over 2006-09.
Despite dramatic improvements in some areas, considerable challenges remain. Of the 20 countries with the lowest net enrolment ratios 13 are in sub-Saharan Africa. Qualified teacher numbers remain below requirement, with the pupil-teacher ratios averaging 1:45 at primary school. Rural ratios are even higher due to poor teacher deployment in many countries. On current trends, the target of universal primary education by 2015 will be missed by Africa as a whole.
Further, despite improvements in enrolment and completion rates, there is increased concern that the quality of education received is falling short of that needed to provide basic literacy and numeracy skills for primary children, nor preparing older youths sufficiently for the labour market. Sub-Sahara Africa remains the region with the lowest youth literacy rate in the world, at 71% in 2009 (66% for women and 76% for men).
What are the future priority actions?