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Is Africa’s education system still worth the squeeze?

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Unfortunately, Africa has borne its fair share of the trouble of all the continents in the world. Besides dilapidating poverty across the continent, there is rising unemployment, wars, hunger, and famine. Despite several interventions to assist with these challenges, Africa still lags behind the rest of the world. One of these solutions is education. For several years, it had seemed like the hope that Africa had been waiting for. 

But the reality of education on the continent has been far from great. 

At a basic level, education in Africa seems like a success. The primary school enrolment across Africa is above 80%. More than at any other time before, Africa is seeing greater primary education enrollment. But that is not the full story.

As students proceed to secondary and tertiary institutions, the numbers drop significantly. In Africa, four out of 100 children are expected to make it into graduate and post-graduate institutions. When you compare it to other developing regions and countries, the gap is stark. In South and West Asia, it’s 14 out of 100. In Latin America, it is 36 out of 100 children. The change in enrollment is due to different factors affecting many Africans.

One of the major causes is subsidization. When African countries got independence, many of the leaders had it in their campaign strategies to create a universal primary education system. This meant that education at the primary school level would be subsidized by the government. This made it affordable for the majority of Africans to attend school. This is not the case as students graduate from secondary and tertiary institutions. 

Even when students move on to higher education, many wind up as dropouts. In South Africa, over 40% of students drop out of secondary school before completion. A majority of the dropouts consist of pregnant girls.

Dropping out this early causes challenges for mothers. Many eventually enter unemployment and return to the same vicious cycle of poverty. More so, poverty continues to make it difficult for them to educate their children to escape their dismal circumstances. 

Poverty remains another obvious challenge. 27 of the 28 poorest countries are found in Africa, and one-in-three Africans live below the poverty line. This makes it extremely difficult for most Africans to afford basic education that may equip them with the skills to overcome poverty. As they progress to higher education levels, it becomes even more difficult to afford without scholarships or government subsidies.

Besides poverty, dropouts, and subsidization, there are other external barriers even when education is affordable. Many public schools are dilapidated and lack basic equipment for a classroom to run. For example, they lack chairs, tables, roofs, chalk, and blackboards. Irrespective of the enthusiasm of teachers, operating under such conditions makes it difficult to teach and for students to focus on the learning environment.

More so, the quality of education is not helpful either. Many African countries are still operating schools with outdated syllabuses. These syllabuses still have curriculums from the times of missionaries before independence. Teachers are also poorly trained. In such a case, irrespective of whether the student completes school, they are ill-equipped to survive in the working world. This is because they lack the required skills to gain employment. 

The lack of basic scholastic materials and adequate training is usually to blame on the leaders. This is because of the rampant corruption in Africa where school funding is misused. While the elite take their children abroad to study at top international universities, Africans at home suffer. 

Lastly, Africans have differing perspectives on Western education. Some believe the Western education system will eradicate African values and is therefore a threat. These traditional perspectives have hindered education mostly for girls. Although in some cultures this has also affected the education of boys.

According to a report, nine million girls will never attend school compared to six million boys. The exclusion rate of girls is 36% compared to 32% for boys. 

With all these challenges, is there any hope? The solutions for the African education system start at the policy level. If governments can be held accountable to create better and updated education policies, then they’ll create curriculums that are relevant to the current employment market. 

In addition, support programs should be established to help youth who drop out, especially pregnant women. In some countries, these programs are already alive such as Isibindi Ezikoleni in South Africa and the Give North Education campaign in Nigeria. Governments should also invest in vocational schools that may be more affordable and can equip students with employable skills. 

Education is a basic human right and should be accessible to all, but it starts with reform at the top. Is the current system still with the squeeze? No. Not with nearly 364 million (60%) of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 out of school. But with strong reform, it could be.

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Simon Mwebaze

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