Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing youth demographic with youth accounting for over 60% of the entire population. Given the high number, one would expect high enrolment rates in primary, secondary, and tertiary schooling, achievement, and subsequent development and success but that is not the case. Whilst we have witnessed a rise in evidence on how to most effectively expand access and increase education over the last two decades, the actual changes in access to education and learning disparities have not shown significant improvements. Education inequality is rife on the continent and the inequalities vary from country to country and region to region. In 2018, a UNESCO report found that about one in three people aged between 25 and 64, and one in five youths aged between 15 and 24, were illiterate. Taking aside the legacy of colonialism and racial and ethnic inequalities on the continent, a several factors explain the continuing disparities in education.
It is quite evident that the resolution of education inequality on the continent is urgent for the attainment of both global and continental development agendas as well as the development of the continent’s human capital among its greatest asset, its youthful population.
Defining and Analysing Educational Inequality in Africa
Law Insider defines educational inequality as “ Unequal distribution of academic resources due to the inequality or standard of educational institutions, quality or efficiency of teachers or economic or social status”. The causes of such an issue vary:
1. Conflict: As the armed conflict continues in Central and Western countries, the residual effects on the education system continue to present themselves. As more state funds are spent to sustain the conflict, less is available to address the dire educational issues.
In countries such as the Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria, Angola, and Uganda, armed conflict adversely affects education. As more state funds are spent to sustain the conflict, less is available to address the dire educational issues and fewer boys are in school as they are expected to serve.
2. Ethnicity and religion: Africa is one of the most diverse continents in terms of ethnic groups, cultures, languages, and the variety of socio-economic factors, classes, and religions. Diversity is deeply enshrined in the continent’s identity and plays a big role in inequity.
- Apartheid has had a lasting legacy in the education system of South Africa. The implementation of the Bantu Education Act ensured that black schools received fewer resources. The inadequacy led to disparities in development and less opportunities after leaving the schooling system. This lack of funding also meant that teachers had more students in their classrooms at a ratio of 1:39, making it impossible for students to receive the attention required to succeed, especially in an unequal society such as during the Apartheid era. Today, many schools in areas affected by Bantu Education Act are still facing results of policies implemented 40 years ago. Schools in the Eastern Cape are dilapidated, materials are sparse and worn out and sanitation is neglected. This leads to high dropout rates and school closures.
- The report “Conflict and Educational Inequity” based on a research conducted by the United States Agency of International Development, states that in 14 countries, women living in urban areas attend school for twice as long as women living in rural areas. Women living in urban areas are able to continue with and expand their education because of a higher household income affording them that opportunity. As they grow up in environments where the standard of living is higher, they are exposed to a life where they see more and have more therefore they can work towards attaining that lifestyle and sustaining it for themselves.
- The report also claimed that overall, Christian women have double or more education than Muslim women in Liberia, Mali, and Nigeria. On average, Muslim women attend school for fewer years. This may be due to the Muslim faith placing importance on matters such as early and/or arranged marriage and pregnancy. Women are not given a fair chance at attaining a quality education as, in the faith, it is more important for a woman to serve the duties of the household than it is for them to attend school.
3. Dropout rate: An article by Kevin Watkins states that Africa has a primary school enrolment rate of 76%. That number decreases drastically to 28% in secondary school. According to Africa Renewal Magazine, the reasons for this reduction include a limit in household income which affects accessibility, and the inability of educational institutions to ensure fairness across geographical areas, gender boundaries, and physical limitations. Moreover, lack of state funding leads to poor infrastructure, insufficient learning materials, and a lack of adequately trained teachers. Likewise, research by Frontiers in Education on inequity in North Africa states that registration is three times lower in rural areas than in urban areas.
4. Resource allocation: The allocation of resources plays a big role in the inequity of education across Africa. The reason for the decrease in enrolment rates is largely due to the increase in child labour. Due to the poverty rate in these countries, being able to contribute to the survival of the family is more important than attaining an education.
As a result, more children are joining the workforce in whatever capacity they can to alleviate the financial strain. Resultantly, this harms the future of the country as more of the population is uneducated or not educated enough for the available jobs.
It also creates an impossible situation where children are constantly forced to choose between their next meal or being able to read. Budget cuts in South Africa in the 2020/2021 financial year saw a decrease of R5.3 billion. A decrease of this magnitude affects the poorest of the country. As schools and students already face extreme learning conditions, less financial assistance leads to an increased difficulty for students to transition from one grade to another. It also causes teachers to give a less concerted effort to educate the students as there is not enough support from the government. Corruption plays a large role in the lack of state funding in the education system. Government officials are more interested in misappropriating funds to finance their needs than using state funds to invest in the future of the continent.
1. Schools need to ensure that the fundamentals of maths and English are covered. UNESCO’S Global Education Monitoring Report states that only 18% of children enrolled in schools achieve minimum proficiency in these subjects. A delay of this nature only slows down the development of the child which will cause a hindrance in the educational and even personal growth of the individual. It may also be beneficial to teach children in groups on their level of comprehension instead of by grade.
2. Governments need to invest in arts and culture. Teaching children and youth that opportunities for success exist outside of the classroom is important. Making them aware of non-traditional routes allows for new avenues for them to discover which may suit them far better than a degree in maths or physics.
3. Schools and private sectors need to work together to make the youth aware of the gaps in the labour market. This way, the youth can work towards an attainable future.
Effective Policies In Place
Although most African countries are struggling to effectively address the education crisis, many have taken strides in improving.
1. The Sahel Education Summit founded the Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend. This initiative, founded by Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, allowed for young women and children who are exposed to factors such as extreme poverty, forced migration, and high fertility rates. By affording young girls and women the opportunity to stay in school through collaboration with religious leaders and members of the community, fertility, forced marriages and gender inequality rates decrease due to an increase in the youth’s knowledge of their rights, their options for their how their lives can proceed and their education overall.
2. Egypt adopted the Teachers First program where teachers’ skills are updated to better suit the minds of the youth. This program will allow teachers to gain a better understanding of professional behaviours and modern education, how they shape today’s education system and how they can integrate it into everyday teaching and learning program.
3. Countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania have implemented the Free Education Policy. This policy directly addresses inaccessibility by making school fees low and more affordable for all.
4. Agenda 2063 is a plan in place to completely modify Africa into the powerhouse of the future. Goals such as having “well-educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology, and innovation”. This plan allows Africa to rededicate itself to transform education systems in Africa towards 2030 and beyond. It requires the implementation of policy and fiscal interventions and measures in education that go above and beyond the rudimentary practices.
5. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted 17 goals for the successfulness of future generation. One of the 17 goals is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Due to COVID-19, education has fallen back 20 years. Millions of children have missed months on in-person teaching. By 2030, the United Nations aims eradicate all traces of the effects of the pandemic and ensure all youth are well prepared for the next phase of their schooling career and subsequent employment paths.
Africa as a whole has to take many strides to improve the education of children and youth. Consideration needs to be taken beyond the financial aspect of education inequity if it will be done away with completely. By taking the steps necessary to ensure every child has the opportunity to receive quality fair education, the future generation of this continent is sure to excel.