Africa’s twin education crisis drains economics, fuels instability

Africa Progress Panel calls on African governments and their partners to make a final push for the Millennium Development Goals, including education

Africa’s twin education crisis is reinforcing inequalities and fuelling political instability, according to a new report published today by the Africa Progress Panel, referring to both the quality and quantity of African education.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of children out of school dropped from 42 million to 30 million, but – with the world’s fastest growing population – Africa is still on track to have 17 million children out of school in 2025, a decade after the world’s 2015 target date for universal primary education.

Kofi Annan, Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, said, “Many African children are receiving an education of abysmal quality. Far from equipping themselves for a globalised economy, millions of Africans emerge from primary school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. They face the prospect of marginalisation, poverty, and insecure unemployment.”

Of 173 million young Africans aged between 15 to 24, an estimated one in five are unemployed, for example, a youth unemployment rate that is second only to the Middle East, according to the Africa Progress Panel report. Indeed, social movements in the Middle East, collectively known as the Arab Spring, have highlighted the dangers of failing to create enough jobs for a growing youth population.

“The common thread linking these movements is the shared sense of frustration and anger over unresponsive governments and the lack of jobs, justice, and equity,” said Mr Annan.

But the examples of Tanzania and Ethiopia show what can be achieved with massive effort, said Mr Annan. Both countries reduced out-of-school numbers by over 3 million in the first half of the decade after 2000. And the Africa Progress Panel wants to see a massive push towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, including education.

“Given the critical place of education in poverty reduction and job creation, we urge governments to deliver on the commitment to provide education for all by 2015 and to strengthen their focus on learning achievement,” Mr Annan said.

Statistics to measure Africa’s progress mask major inequalities in education which reinforce existing fault-lines among the poor, women, ethnic minorities, rural children and other marginalised groups. In Nigeria, poor rural Hausa women aged between 17 and 22 average less than one year in school, while their wealthy, male, urban counterparts average more than nine years, for example.

Graça Machel, a member of the Africa Progress Panel, said she worried that Africa’s political leaders and aid donors get so mesmerised by figures on economic growth, that they lose sight of other indicators. “How else do you explain why the most recent data on education have yet to register as a national emergency?” she said.

“Education has the capacity to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” she added. “Go to any poor rural village or urban slum and you will find Africans who share that view.”

Ms Machel noted that one additional year of schooling in a poor country can add 10 percent to a person’s income. And in Ethiopia, women with no education have fertility rates three times higher than those with secondary education.

Among the new report’s policy recommendations, the Africa Progress Panel calls on African governments to:

  • Break the link between hunger, poverty and parental illiteracy, and educational disadvantage
  • Use public spending to target disadvantaged regions, schools, and pupils, including girls and marginalised groups
  • Expand “second-chance” education to target those who missed out on education in their early years.

The report also advises development partners to:

  • Build on the achievements of the Global Partnership for Education to create a global fund for education
  • Honour commitments made in 2000 by providing US$ 16 billion a year in aid for basic education in low income countries
  • Act on a commitment to increase World Bank IDA lending to basic education by US$ 75 million over the period 2011 to 2015.

Publications

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