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close this bookThe Condition of Young Children in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Convergence of Health, Nutrition, and Early Education (WB, 1996, 64 p.)
close this folder2. The status of children In sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentProgress in human development
View the documentPhysical needs: Survival, health, and nutrition
View the documentEducational profile
View the documentEarly interventions, school readiness and subsequent performance
View the documentThe challenge ahead
View the document3. What can early childhood development programs do?
View the documentImproving child quality
View the documentIncreasing the efficiency of primary and secondary school investments
View the documentEnhancing the economic contribution of the child to society
View the documentReducing social inequity
View the documentAddressing the intersecting needs of women and children
View the documentCreating synergistic effects of health, nutrition, and early stimulation

Educational profile

Education is a critical determinant of the well-being of future generations, especially for females, because it contributes to future potential income and can improve parental child-rearing practices. Empirically, this lesson emerges from Asia where rising investments in the 1960s and 1970s in education established the human capital for the economic growth that followed (World Bank 1995c).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has a right to education." In addition to the basic physical needs such as food, health and shelter, children also have strong innate needs to learn and acquire skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits that foster personal development. To fully develop their potential as members of society, or simply as human beings, these needs have to be satisfied in a stimulating and caring environment. How do Sub-Saharan African children fare in this regard?

Sub-Saharan Africa is caught in an educational downward spiral. Despite the unprecedented expansion in education in the post-colonial period, Africa remains the most under educated continent in the world. The proportion of the population over age 15 who cannot, with comprehension, read and write a short, simple, statement of their everyday life was 50 percent in 1990 (figure 11). This makes Africa's adult illiteracy rate second only to South Asia's and about three times greater than that of Latin America and the Caribbean (18 percent) (World Bank 1994a). As much as 82 percent of the population in Burkina Faso remained illiterate in the year 1990. In Malawi, only 38 percent of the population was literate in 1994. Of particular relevance is the high rate of illiteracy among women. Two out of 3 women in Sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate (62 percent). In 9 out of 47 SubSaharan Africa countries, female illiteracy rates exceed 80 percent. In Burkina Faso 91 percent of the female population was illiterate in 1992.

The mean years of schooling for Sub-Saharan Africa was only 1.6 in 1992 (figure 12), the lowest among all the developing regions in the world. This has placed the Sub-Saharan Africa region at a great disadvantage at the outset of the globalized economy and information age where competition requires not only literacy in terms of reading and writing, but also coping with modern technology.


Figure 11: Illiteracy Rate, 1990

The mean years of schooling for women in the region is only 1.0, compared to 2.2 for men (Odaga and Heneveld 1995). These statistics are significant in view of the recognized relationship between women's education and the improved health status and educational attainment of their offspring. Accumulated research evidence suggests that a mother with a few years of schooling is more likely to provide her children with the care, stimulation and nutrition which will dramatically improve her child's educational participation and performance in the early formative years, than a mother who has never been in school. In Africa, an increase of I percentage point in the national literacy rate is directly associated with a 2 year rise in life expectancy (Cochrane. as cited in Lockheed and Verspoor 1990).

The education profile of African children is characterized by low enrollment and high attrition in primary schools and the poor participation in secondary and tertiary levels. Regionally, the expansion of primary enrollment during the 1960s and 1970s gave way to stagnation and even decline during the last decade. The present low primary enrollment levels and high repetition and drop-out rates in many Sub-Saharan countries are in large part due to poor investment in children before entry. This is compounded by poor quality and low efficiency in the existing primary school systems.


Figure 12: Mean Years of Schooling

The gross enrollment ratios (GER) - the proportion of pupils of all ages in primary education to the total official primary school-age population - indicate that the Sub-Saharan Africa region lags considerably behind others. During the period 1986-92, the Sub-Saharan African average GER was only 74 percent for males and 60 percent for females. Many girl children have high task-loads at home and in the fields, and are consequently being withheld from school. At the same time, the industrial countries averaged about 102 percent for both boys and girls (UNICEF 1995). These regional averages conceal some very poor performers: the GER in Mali was only 25 percent, and in Somalia 11 percent, the lowest in the world (UNESCO 1992). No fewer than 18 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa reported declining GERs throughout the last decade.


Figure 13: Gross Enrollment Ratio

About 50 percent of the total primary school-aged population in Sub-Saharan Africa are out of school. If current trends continue, the absolute number of children excluded from primary school will rise to 52 million by the turn of the century (UNESCO 1993). In Uganda, for example, out of 3.5 million children of primary school age (6-12), only 1.9 million were actually in school in 1994. Most of these out of school children live in urban slums or in rural areas, assisting in the fields or herding livestock.


Figure 14: Repetition Rates in Grades 1-3 in Primary Education

For those who do enroll, the existing primary school system in Sub-Saharan Africa is plagued by poor quality and low internal efficiency. While repetition rates are very high in all grades, they are particularly high in the first two or three grades where the admission of children from a wide age-range of learning capacity typically leads to overcrowded classrooms, unsuitable learning conditions, demotivating teaching practices, and subsequent early dropout. Evidence has shown that for many pupils, especially those from deprived family backgrounds, repeating one or more unproductive years at this early stage of their formal education can constitute the first destructive step toward dropping out. Twenty or more percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa repeat at least I grade between the years of I to 3 (UNESCO 1993). This high repetition rate in primary school constitutes a significant waste of Africa's financial and human resources.

Besides the high repetition rates, school dropout continues to be a major problem for SubSaharan Africa, where less than two-thirds of all children who start grade I actually reach grade 5. At the same time, the comparative statistic for industrial countries is more than 95 percent. For instance, out of those who enrolled in primary school in Uganda, only 32 percent completed the primary school cycle in 1994.


Figure 15: Percent of Primary School Entrants Reaching Grade 5

Secondary and Tertiary Level Enrollment

Only 18 percent of those falling within the official age-brackets for secondary education were actually enrolled in secondary education in the year 1991, the lowest among all the developing regions including South Asia. Female secondary enrollment is an even lower at 14 percent. Inadequate preparation in primary schooling has resulted in even higher rates of repetition and dropout at the secondary level.


Figure 16: Secondary School Enrollment