Half of African children will not complete their secondary education by 2030, while one in 10 will not complete primary school unless countries accelerate their investment in education, the UN has warned.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is now calling for a more concerted effort to ensure that children are not just in school but also that they are getting quality learning.
Achieving quality education for all children by 2030 is one of the targets under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The biggest challenge for sub-Saharan Africa, Unesco says in a new report, is the fact that the school-age population is growing faster than elsewhere in the world, and financial resources are not keeping up.
The region’s share of the global out-of-school population of primary school age grew from 41 per cent in 2000 to 54 per cent in 2017, UN data shows.
Globally, 262 million or 18 percent of all children, adolescents and youth aged six to 17 years were out of school in 2017.
“Based on current trends, these numbers will drop only slightly to 225 million or 14 per cent by 2030,” says Unesco in the report prepared for the UN high-level political forum on sustainable development being held this week in New York.
“Among children of primary school age (typically 6–11 years), 64 million or nine per cent are out of school. The primary out-of-school rate fell from 15 per cent to nine per cent between 2000 and 2008, but has not changed in subsequent years,” says the report.
For sub-Saharan Africa, which is already running a deficit in public financing, the reality is that education is competing for scant resources with other key goals such as healthcare, food security, water and sanitation and the infrastructure.
Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report estimates that there is an annual funding gap of at least $39 billion (Sh4 trillion) per year between 2015 and 2030 in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Aid to education that should help plug the gap is proving insufficient, reaching just $13.2 billion (Sh1.36 trillion) in 2017 as education falls lower in the priority list of donors.
Spending on education as a percentage of the total budget for many countries in Africa falls between 10 and 20 per cent.
But due to the relatively small size of many of these budgets in nominal terms, the actual amount is often not enough to give every child quality education.
In many cases, the budget can’t guarantee every child a seat in the classroom, leaving education access to only those who can afford the high school fees.
Unesco also raises concerns about the decline in the proportion of trained teachers to pupils in the region since 2000, which directly affects the quality of education and to some extent the school retention ratio.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64 per cent of primary and 50 per cent of secondary school teachers have the minimum required training, and this proportion has been declining since 2000, as a result of schools hiring contract teachers without qualifications to cover gaps at lower cost,” says Unesco.
Rectifying this problem calls for a huge resource allocation, which can only be the case if countries appreciate that education forms the foundation for equitable social-economic development.
Kenya, which has adopted a free universal primary and free day secondary education policy, now has spending on schooling as the largest budget item on its expenditure roll. In the 2019/2020 fiscal year, the country is spending Sh473.3 billion on education, equivalent to 26 per cent of total expenditure.
The country is targeting a 100 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary school, and is rolling out a new curriculum.
The money, in addition to financing free education, also goes to training, hiring and paying a larger number of teachers.
To cater foe the ever-increasing number of students — especially in secondary school with the 100 percent transition goal —there is also a need to direct resources into expansion of school facilities.
Kenya’s example shows the level of financial investment and policy adjustments required to improve the education levels in sub-Saharan Africa if the region is to meet the SDG goals on education.
Part of the policies that can help, Unesco says, is the establishment of partnerships between respective ministries of education and fellow government ministries and agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to reduce the non-education barriers to school retention.
Unesco cites the example of Kenya’s school feeding programme, which has helped keep children in school especially in semi-arid regions and slums.
For 40 years until 2009, the programme was run with the World Food Programme. The government then launched its Home-Grown School Meals programme to gradually take over the project, with the handover from the WFP plan completed last year.
The feeding programme was allocated Sh2.4 billion in the 2018/19 fiscal year, primarily administered by the Ministry of Education’s School Health, Nutrition and Meals Coordination Unit. The ministries of health, agriculture, and livestock and fisheries, East African Community, Labour and Social Protection and the Treasury also participate in the programme.
Investment in proper healthcare, for example, means that children will end up missing fewer school days, and thus avoid falling behind their peers in the classroom, which in the long term can lead to dropping out altogether.
Measures to promote gender equality—especially in countries where the girls are not afforded equal opportunity— can also help close the education gap.
Part of this involves combating early or child marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM).