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Education

Africa’s Learning Crisis

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Hardly a week goes by without someone pointing out that, despite being enrolled in school, many of Africa’s primary school-age children don’t seem to be learning very much. 

Today’s salvo is from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, whose Africa Learning Barometer estimates that 61 million children (half of the primary school-age population) “will reach their adolescent years without being able to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks.”  

Last week, my colleagues Elizabeth King and Ritva Reinikka called on Africa’s education system to “put learning first for all students.”  We have documented disappointing learning outcomes in Tanzania on this blog.  Despite being a middle-income country and having substantially increased public spending on education, South Africa’s performance in standardized tests is below the average for African countries.

Kenya’s education dividend

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Despite positive news and the talk of an African “renaissance,” many still doubt whether the continent is ready for take-off. Rapid population growth and the resulting “youth bulge” remain major concerns in a context of widespread un(der)employment. How can a country like Kenya create one million jobs each year, just to accommodate new entrants into the labor force? 

 

But young people don’t just need jobs, they also create them. Therefore, what matters most is to make sure that the education system delivers the skills needed in emerging economies, and incubates entrepreneurs. In turn, as people become more educated and healthier, they will have fewer children. This is already happening: As Kenya continues to welcome about a million new citizens each year, family size is slowly declining. 

Tanzania: Let's think together

Jacques Morisset's picture

Every Sunday the World Bank in Tanzania in collaboration with the newspapwer The Citizen want to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys and ask you a few questions. 

Are all Tanzania children really going to school?

Over the past decade, Tanzania has been close to reaching almost its universal primary education targets according to official statistics. However, when Tanzanian households were asked directly in recent surveys, they reported that: 

 

  • 17% of their seven to thirteen year-olds were not attending school 
  • 30% of the seven or eight year-olds in rural areas were not attending school and as much as 45% for those in the poorest quintile
  • 45% of those of the seven or eight year-olds not attending school in the rural areas are among the poorest people
  • About 1/3 (400,000) of the 1.2 million seven-year-olds are out of school, with rural boys less likely to go to school than girls.

 

Those responses warrant a number of questions:

The politics of service delivery

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Teachers in Tanzania are absent 23 percent of the time; doctors in Senegal spend an average of 39 minutes a day seeing patients; in Chad, 99 percent of non-wage public spending in health disappears before reaching the clinics.

These and other service delivery failures have been widely documented since the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People.

But why do these failures persist?  Because they represent a political equilibrium where politicians and service providers (teachers, doctors, bureaucrats) benefit from the status quo and will therefore resist attempts at improving services.  For instance, teachers are often the campaign managers for local politicians.  They work to get the politician elected, in return for which they get a job from which they can be absent. Powerful medical unions ensure that their members can work in the private sector and neglect their salaried government jobs.  The losers are the poor, whose children don't learn to read and write, or get sick and die because the public clinic is empty.

Thou shall not die: Reducing maternal deaths in sub-Sahara Africa

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

Mother and child in South Sudan There is growing optimism in the development community that the dawn of the “African Century” may be upon us.  The reasons for this optimism are real.  Over the last decade, six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa, and substantial political and social progress has been achieved.  

But I would say that the potential for this development may be undermined if the everyday tragedy of preventable maternal deaths continues unabated across the continent. 

 

The recently-released report “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010. WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank estimates” paints a dramatic picture. Overall, close to 60% of global maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and at 500 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the region has the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the world, well above Southern Asia (220), Oceania (200), South-eastern Asia (150), and Latin America and the Caribbean (80).

A wiki on Africa Youth Employment

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Ever wonder how a World Bank  flagship report gets written?  A team of experts drafts an outline and shares it with stakeholders for their comments, suggestions and inputs.  Based on this feedback, the team drafts the report and shares the draft for further comment, before publishing the final draft.

Today, we are proposing to write our flagship report on youth employment in Africa differently.  We are launching a wiki platform and inviting the world to participate in the writing of the report. The wiki contains the preliminary outline which you can revise and rewrite.  I emphasize that the outline is preliminary; it contains assertions that may not be borne out by further analysis (I know because I wrote some of them).  So please add to, subtract from and edit the outline.

 

Why are we doing this?  First, the topic of youth employment in Africa is so important that we need to engage as many people as possible in finding solutions.  And second, young people are so tech-savvy that this may be a way of harnessing that talent and energy.  

 

As you can imagine, the idea of writing a report on a wiki platform raised some questions, even from my teammates ("if you needed brain surgery, would you crowd source that too?"). But we decided that the benefits outweigh the risks.

 

Writing a report on a wiki is the logical extension of the World Bank's open knowledge and open data programs (link to these), not to mention this blog.

 

And if we succeed in collaborating with a large number of people, we could call it the world's development report.

About Development Economics

Shanta Devarajan's picture

UPDATE (May 15th, 2012) Caroline Freund, World Bank Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa has joined the debate. See her remarks.

The Chief Economists of all the regions where the World Bank implements programs got together recently to exchange thoughts about the current state of development economics.

You can read a summary of our views related to Africa, South Asia, and Europe and Central Asia here. 

And we hope you can participate in this debate by sharing your own views via the comments section below.  

100% pass rate in South Africa’s township schools?

Sandeep Mahajan's picture

Residents of the pukka houses (formerly temporary shacks) in front of the apartment complex where my family lives in New Delhi have decided to send their kids to private, English-medium schools, cutting corners to save enough to be able to afford it.

Rewarding safe sex

Damien de Walque's picture

Prevention strategies have had limited impact on the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. New, innovative approaches to behavioral change are needed to stem the epidemic.

In a joint effort with many colleagues, and in collaboration with the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania and, the University of California at Berkeley, we launched a study with the acronym RESPECT (“Rewarding STI Prevention and Control in Tanzania”).

We started with an observation:  Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been used successfully to promote activities that are beneficial to the participants such as school attendance  and health check-ups for children.  The Tanzanian experiment asks whether CCTs can be used to prevent people from engaging in activities that are harmful to themselves and others, such as unsafe sex. This is a controversial idea.

Tanzania’s Steep Learning Curve

Stevan Lee's picture

Tanzania has shown massive achievements in education – well known progress in primary enrolment plus less well known, but in some ways even more spectacular, growth in post-primary education. 

Yet, Tanzania needs to improve learning outcomes if a virtuous cycle of growth and human capital investment is to be sustained. This is “The Steep Learning Curve” which Tanzania needs to get onto with modest fiscal resources but a rapidly growing number of new students, and therefore with a keen eye for value. This should be possible.

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