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Africa: Primary Education Pays Off

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 21, 2010 (100921)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Simply getting all children into school has a direct positive impact on economic growth. Then once children are in school, ensuring that the education they receive is good quality multiplies the impact ... A recently completed study from 50 countries established that every extra year of schooling provided to the whole population can increase average annual GDP growth by 0.37%. Where the education is good quality, the improvement of cognitive skills increases the impact to 1%." - Global Campaign for Education

Given the overwhelming evidence that education pays off, this new report by six international non-governmental organizations tries to balance reports of real success and dismay at the failure of both rich and poor governments to make the necessary investments they have committed to in principle. The facts are not surprising, but nevertheless necessary to document, as one component of building the political will that is also indispensable.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains brief excerpts from the report "Back to School?," with detailed tables comparing the records of 60 poor countries and 22 "donor" countries. The excerpts include with a section on "success stories," which begins as follows: "Across sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade there has been a major effort to increase enrolments, and overall net enrolment rates have increased from 56% to 73% since 1999. Within this, Tanzania has performed particularly well, with the number of out of school children decreasing from 3.1 million to 0.1 million. There has also been dramatic improvement in Kenya, where the number has decreased from 1.9 million to 0.8 million."

For the full report and additional background information, visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on education issues, visit


See my Foreign Policy in Focus commentary on the Global Solidarity Levy at

For more background, see


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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

Back to School? The worst places in the world...

This Global Campaign for Education report is supported by ActionAid, Education International, Oxfam, Plan International, Save The Children and VSO.

[Excerpts only. For the full report and additional background information, visit ]

Success stories: the impact of investing in education

Despite the massive challenges facing education systems across the developing world, the last decade has seen significant improvement in certain countries. The top of our league table shows how countries with relatively low GNP per capita can still be effective in providing widespread access to good quality education - by ensuring that they allocate sufficient funds for education and prioritise teachers, textbooks and classrooms. ...

Across sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade there has been a major effort to increase enrolments, and overall net enrolment rates have increased from 56% to 73% since 1999. Within this, Tanzania has performed particularly well, with the number of out of school children decreasing from 3.1 million to 0.1 million. There has also been dramatic improvement in Kenya, where the number has decreased from 1.9 million to 0.8 million. Keeping children in school once they have enrolled remains a major challenge. Again, there are some significant success stories -In Kenya, Ghana, Namibia and Tanzania, more than 80% of children that enrol in school are now still enrolled in the final year of primary.

Another key challenge has been ensuring that teachers are appropriately trained and can effectively engage their students in the learning process. In several countries there have been widespread teacher training initiatives bearing considerable fruit. In Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Niger over 98% of primary school teachers have now received the appropriate level of training. This is a huge achievement and bodes well for witnessing a sustained improvement in learning outcomes in these countries.

In most countries across the region boys still have a better chance of going to school than girls. However, countries have worked hard at reducing the gender gap. In Ethiopia, the gap between the number of boys and girls in school has decreased from 13% to 6% since 1999. In Togo it has decreased from 19% to 10% in this period and in Senegal gone down from 7% to 0%, indicating that gender parity has been achieved. Increasing enrolments, training teachers and ensuring gender parity: all of these issues are dependent upon ensuring that there is sufficient domestic financing for education. In the effort to provide good quality EFA it is vital that countries allocate 6% of GNP to education. The countries that lead the way in this regard are Lesotho and Botswana, spending 11% and 8.8% respectively. Burundi has made major progress since 1999, increasing spending on education from 3.5% to 5.2% of GNP. In the same period, Ethiopia has increased from 3.5% to 5.5% of GNP.

Ghana is our top performing country in sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to a variety of factors, including the decision taken to increase spending on education from 4.2% in 1999 to its current level of 5.5%. This increase in resources has meant that Ghana has been able to enrol an extra 1.3 million children into primary school whilst keeping class sizes down to an average of 32 pupils.


Executive Summary

Education is the foundation of all development and a vital catalyst for growth. The eight goals agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 reflected this, with two of them directly concerning an education provision.

  • Goal 2: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
  • Goal 3: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.


This report, backed by many of the world's leading anti-poverty organisations, shines a spotlight on the worst places in the world to be a school child. The findings paint a stark picture of the lives of children from 60 of the poorest countries. It demonstrates loud and clear that the efforts to provide universal access to education are in crisis, and that the progress made in enrolling 40 million more children in school since 2000 is now under severe threat. There are still 69 million children out of school today. The UN report that if current trends continue, the slowdown in progress in enrolments will mean that in 2015 there will be more children out of school than there are today. In addition, too often the quality of education on offer is very poor, leading to early drop-out and illiteracy. Across the world there are 759 million adults who cannot read or write. In sub-Saharan Africa, 48% of children do not complete primary school and only one country in the region sends more than half its children to secondary school.

Education is proven to be the key to ensuring sustained and equitable economic growth, improved health and social development.

  • Across the world, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all children left school with basic reading skills.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, providing every mother with secondary education would save the lives of 1.8 million children every year.

Despite this potential for transformation, the education sector is in crisis, with developing countries under pressure to squeeze their budgets and aid budgets being cut. Indeed, recent international summits have shown little if any appetite to address the looming emergency.

It is clear that a dramatic upscaling of domestic and external aid efforts is needed ... While the efforts of some have been remarkable, too many poor country governments still do not take the minimum actions required to open the school gates to all.

In addition, poor countries are on a worsening trajectory as severe and deepening pressure from the economic downturn caused by the crisis of the rich world's banking system bites on their budgets. The global impact of the economic downturn is expected to be devastating in the education sector, where it is estimated that $4.6 billion per year will be lost to education budgets in sub-Saharan Africa due to the combination of effects of the crisis.

It is vital that governments of rich and poor countries now live up to the promises they have made. ...

Poor countries should:

  1. Be vocal and passionate advocates of investment in education on the global stage.
  2. Put a minimum of 20% of their budgets into education, half for primary schooling.
  3. End fees and charges that prevent families sending children to school.
  4. Help girls and marginalized groups into school, with special programmes such as school health and nutrition and stipends.
  5. Train and recruit all the teachers needed to achieve EFA, and ensure quality teaching and learning that meets the diverse needs of students, alongside appropriate assessment of learning outcomes.
  6. Be open to civil society participation and democratic control in education governance and budgeting, to strengthen accountability between citizens and the state.

Rich countries should:

  1. Immediately prepare a step-up plan for reaching their fair share of the funding needed for EFA. Aid to basic education should double from $4 billion to $8 billion per year immediately, and increase incrementally to $16 billion per year by 2014.
  2. Make aid available for the core running costs of education - teachers, books and schools - and end the practice of reporting imputed student costs and aid to overseas territories into total aid to education figures.
  3. Back global plans and initiatives to ensure resources and results:
    • At the G20, agree a global financial transactiontax of at least $400 billion per year, with $100 billion of this for development aid, including education.
    • Back a reformed Fast Track Initiative and ensure that its replenishment target of $2 billion for 2010 is met immediately.
    • Explore other innovative approaches to raising and disbursing funds for education.
  4. Target aid to countries facing the greatest challenges, including those suffering war and conflict, and where girls are most severely disadvantaged.
  5. Require the IMF and World Bank to pursue 'pro-education' policies:

*The World Bank should agree a matched funding formula for assisting FTI-endorsed countries, combining its resources with FTI grants under a single stream, in the form of grants rather than loans.

*The IMF should relax macroconomic conditions such as low inflation and deficit targets to allow for counter-cyclical investment in education up to 2015.


Education: A compelling case for development

Education Beats Poverty

... When people cannot read or write, when they do not have the skills and abilities that a good quality education offers, they are condemned to a life of poverty, ill-health and social exclusion. This disadvantage gets handed down through generations. ...And it is not only individuals who suffer - nations as a whole are affected: lack of quality education holds back economic growth and hampers democratic participation. ...

The other side of the story is that children who do go to school and learn are healthier, better-nourished, and live longer and more prosperous lives than those who are excluded. ...

Education is the key to women's empowerment and better health for all

Time and again the global community has recognised the pivotal role of women in improving the lives of their families and villages. Both the EFA and Millennium Development Goals set ambitious targets for girls' education, stating that gender parity should be achieved by 2005. This target, tragically, has been missed by a mile.


Some key statistics:

  • A child whose mother cannot read or write is 50% more likely to die before the age of 5 and twice as likely to suffer from malnutrition than a child whose mother completed primary school. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunise their children. Providing every mother in sub-Saharan Africa with secondary education would save the lives of 1.8 million children every year.
  • A girl in Africa who receives an education is three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS . If every girl and boy received a primary education, 7 million cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented in a decade.
  • Women with six or more years of education are more likely to seek prenatal care, assisted childbirth, and postnatal care, reducing the risk of maternal and child mortality and illness.

Education builds economic growth and stability

Perhaps most striking of all in the current global context is the compelling evidence that failing to achieve universal education holds back economic growth. ...

Simply getting all children into school has a direct positive impact on economic growth. Then once children are in school, ensuring that the education they receive is good quality multiplies the impact because it provides them with the skills, knowledge and abilities needed to thrive in the world. A recently completed study from 50 countries established that every extra year of schooling provided to the whole population can increase average annual GDP growth by 0.37%. Where the education is good quality, the improvement of cognitive skills increases the impact to 1%. Another survey of 120 countries from between 1970-2000 provides compelling evidence that education consistently and significantly affects economic development and is a necessary precondition for long-term economic growth. Put simply, the better the quality of education, the bigger the impact on growth.


Some key statistics:

  • The cost of failing to provide a good quality education for all children in poor countries could be as much as $70 billion a year, due to lost economic growth.
  • No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40% of adults able to read and write.
  • An adult who has completed primary education is likely to earn 50% more than an adult who has never been to school.
  • A single year of primary school can increase the wages people earn later in life by 5-15% for boys and even more for girls.

Where there's a will there's a way: Governments can act to ensure education goals are reached

Education is an outstanding economic and social investment for long-term development, and a vital building block for weathering and recovering from crisis. Remarkably, there is strong consensus among experts regarding what works to get children into school and keep them there. Our School Report ranks governments on some of these measures - many of them relatively low cost - in order to deliver on the EFA goals.

There is widespread agreement that low-income countries with large education challenges need to spend at least 20% of budgets on education. Despite this, 28 countries in our analysis fall far short of allocating this amount. Countries such as Liberia and Chad are dramatically below target - contributing less than 10% of budgets. These countries and others are failing to deliver on the EFA targets because they persistently neglect to allocate sufficient funds to the education of their own citizens.

Other effective policy measures are eliminating the burden of school fees, investing in school meals and ensuring a supply of qualified, motivated teachers. All of these contribute not only to increasing access to education but also improving education quality, which is needed to keep children in school and ensure that they achieve meaningful learning outcomes during their time there. ...
Our analysis shows that governments have not consistently used these key interventions, despite broad consensus on their impact. Many of the poorest countries in our analysis have resorted to meeting demand by employing unqualified teachers: Bangladesh, Honduras, Chad, Liberia and Mozambique all have less than 50% of their teachers fully trained. ...

There is even poorer performance when it comes to ensuring that children who do attend school do not have to sit in the classroom with empty stomachs: our analysis revealed only two countries from within the poor world with appropriate coverage of school meal provision. Malnourishment and hunger lead to children getting less benefit from education, decreasing learning outcomes and increasing drop-out rates.


Our report also benchmarks countries' political commitment on the issue of fees in education. Despite almost universal acknowledgement that fees prevent children entering and staying in school, in sub-Saharan Africa families are giving an average of one-quarter of their incomes to education. 23 countries in our analysis still do not guarantee free primary Education For All, in direct contravention of UN human rights standards, which make free and compulsory primary education an immediate obligation for states. Even in countries that do have a legal right to education, parents are regularly forced to pay informal fees or in some cases contribute to teacher pay. ...

Girls fare worst in the Fight for a decent life

Our final ranking is made up of indicators that assess girls' chances of getting an education. It reveals how girls - especially those living in poor areas - are massively disadvantaged compared to boys. Girls' enrolment in primary education has slowly inched towards parity: currently 53% of out-of-school children are girls compared with 60% in 2000. However, there remain several countries with significant gender gaps. One example of this is Pakistan, where 73% of boys enrol compared to only 57% of girls. In addition, across most countries, once girls are in school they have a lower chance of completing primary education compared to boys. In Malawi, of those that enrol, 22.3% of boys complete primary compared to 13.8% of girls. In Burundi the situation is similar, with 44.9% of boys that enrol completing primary compared to 27.3% of girls.


Ensuring gender equality in education was the only MDG that should have been achieved by 2005. This target has been missed by a mile and it is vital that international efforts are now channelled into ensuring that girls get the same opportunity as boys to receive access to a good quality education. The most important reason for this is that education is a human right, regardless of gender. However, there are many additional benefits both for the individual girls and their wider communities as demonstrated above.

Though the benefits of girls' education are many, daunting obstacles prevent girls them from getting into the classroom, and then staying there throughout school. However, these barriers can be reduced through government action:

  • Hire women teachers. The presence of a female teacher can help girls and parents feel more confident in sending their daughters to school. In addition to protecting girls from potential abuse, having female teachers provides girls with role models. Increasing the number of female teachers has also been shown to increase enrolment.
  • Prevent abuse. Sexual harassment and violence form major barriers to girls' and young women's access to education and their ability to benefit from it. They are powerful factors in influencing parents to keep girls out of school, for girls themselves avoiding school and for girls' underperformance in the classroom. ...
  • Allow young mothers to come back to school. Girls who become pregnant are often prevented from going back to school after the birth of their child. There is need for policy change to re-admit girls, alongside challenging the stigma and associated bullying which also prevents girls from coming back to school.
  • Build and equip more schools. In many rural regions, the most significant issue preventing girls from attending is simply one of distance between home and school. Many parents prevent girls from going to school because of fears for their safety. In Egypt in the 1980s constructing new schools in rural areas boosted girls' enrolments by 60% and boys' enrolments by 19%.


Playing fair means paying your share

In order to fulfil the pledge that poor countries should have enough funds to deliver their education plans, developed countries need to make the cash available to get every child a good quality education and ensure second chance learning for those who miss out. The Report Card ranks the efforts each donor country has made to provide their fair share of the $16 billion in external financing that is needed each year to secure EFA. The burden of filling this financing gap should be shared fairly between donor countries on the basis of their respective wealth. Currently this is far from being the case: Norway is in 1st place, donating 130% of their fair share, and at the other end it is the USA, which should be most embarrassed, donating only 16% of what is required of them. The miserly performance of the G8 nations plays a major part in holding back progress - some 87% of the gap is attributable to their failure to pay up.


Smoke and mirrors in aid reporting

In 2008, total German aid to education was $1.65 billion - making Germany the second biggest national education donor in the world. However, as always 'the devil is in the detail'. In its aid reporting, the German government includes government spending on university subsidies that are directed to foreign students coming to study from developing countries - this is called imputed student costs. ... The funds do not go to students directly, but to the universities themselves.

The vast majority of the subsidized students are from the elite in developing countries who have the initial financial resources to study in Germany and afford the living costs.

Of the total $1.65 billion in German aid to education in 2008, $927 million went on imputed student costs, amounting to 56% of the total. Within sub-Saharan Africa, German aid to education was $224 million and 45% of this total was spent on imputed student costs.

Germany is not the only donor culprit here, as France also uses the same flawed system for reporting levels of aid to education. French reported aid to education was $1.7 billion in 2008, making them the biggest national education donor in the world. However, of this, $919 million went on imputed student costs, amounting to 54% of the total.

The Global Campaign for Education is calling for the reform of accounting processes for levels of aid to education. Imputed student costs should not be allowed to be reported as aid to education, as including them provides a distorted picture of how much money actually gets to the recipient countries. Imputed student costs do not contribute in any way to the accomplishment of the EFA goals - they do not provide teacher training, new classrooms or educational resources for those that need them most.

Quality counts - aid should fund the core running costs of education

While it is important that there is enough aid going to the right places, the quality of aid plays an important role. Put simply, the aid available could be made to work better if it was available to be spent on teachers, books and schools, rather than expensive consultancies or overpriced goods and services in the donating country. The Netherlands are the top donor in this regard, with Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Ireland each also providing a good example for other donors follow. Greece is the worst donor here, but it is the performance of Germany that is particularly concerning: 81% of their aid to education is tied, only 1.1% is given as budget support, and 74% is in the form of technical assistance. This suggests that aid to education is being spent on highly paid consultants, often from the donor country, rather than directly assisting in providing EFA. Germany is not the only culprit: over 50% of aid to basic education from the USA, Belgium, Portugal and France is also spent on technical assistance.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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