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Poverty

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:

How Kenya became a world leader for mobile money

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

What if anyone owning a cell-phone, whether rich or poor, also had access to financial services with the ability to save and send money safely, no matter where they are located?  This is not science fiction; in fact it is already happening in Kenya, which has become the world’s market leader in mobile money.

Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” (or “M-PESA” which is very different from “mobile banking” as Michael Joseph–the former Safaricom CEO, and the man behind that revolution—can explain passionately!).  

Internet access is also increasing rapidly, even though many are complaining about poor service by some operators. Within the next two years, Kenya could become one of the most connected, and modern economies in the developing world, and a unique case among the world’s poorer countries, that have an average annual income of below US$ 1000 per capita (see figure).

Ending the Communicable and Non-communicable Disease Divide in Africa

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

Co-authored with Jill Farrington

The 2011 UN Summit on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) elevated the importance of NCDs as a pressing global health challenge.  While this recognition was long overdue, are we at risk of establishing a new vertical program, in direct competition for scarce funding with existing communicable diseases control programs and health system strengthening initiatives?

 

If we pay close attention to available evidence, that should not be the case.  The health situation in sub-Saharan Africa nicely illustrates this point, as we have learned from an extensive review of the literature.

 

While the focus in this region has been on communicable diseases and maternal, perinatal and nutritional causes of morbidity and mortality, less attention has been paid to the extent to which these conditions contribute to the growing NCD burden and to potential common intervention strategies. Indeed the biggest increase in NCD deaths globally in the next decade is expected in Africa, where they are likely to become the leading cause of death by 2030. 

What the Global Findex Database says about Africa

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

With the recent opening of a rural savings and credit cooperative, the people in Gebremichael’s Ethiopian village no longer have to save their money in pots or under the mattress at home. He and his neighbors are learning to use formal savings and credit systems.

We know that many in Sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from using the formal financial system, but exactly how many are using it to save, borrow, make payments and manage risk? 

With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion Indicators (Global Findex) we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage their daily finances and plan for the future. The Global Findex database also identifies barriers to financial inclusion, such as cost, travel time, distance, amount of paper work, and income inequality.  Our new Working Paper offers an overview of Financial Inclusion in Africa.

Slums dwellers need opportunities not hand-outs

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The International School of Kenya just hosted its last football tournament of the year. Teams from Nairobi’s poor neighborhoods dominated the event. Rain was pouring and many of the players were playing barefoot, but they still thrived, outperforming many teams from schools where the rich take their children.

In the 10-11 age group, the top three places went to teams from destitute neighborhoods, including Kibera, which some people have (wrongly) dubbed as the world’s largest slum. Kibera Sports Academy stood at the top of the podium, while second and third places went to Inspiration Kenya and Peace Academy respectively. 

Many people, including Kenyans, consider slums the epitome of misery. The common wisdom is they breed disease, crime and many other forms and manifestations of poverty. Why then are slums growing bigger, with people migrating to them in ever increasing numbers?

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.

Do small countries do it better?

Apurva Sanghi's picture

In development circles, people talk about “countries that are too big to fail and too small to succeed”.  The jury may be out on the former but a new book by Shahid Yusuf and Kaoru Nabeshima, “Some Small Countries Do It Better” dispels the notion that countries can be too small to succeed.

Three small countries studied in the book - SIFIRE (SIngapore, FInland, IREland) – not only grew at high rates but were able to sustain them.

The book – which concludes with a section on implications for African countries – contends that growth recipes for SIFIRE were not tightly bound to the East Asian model of extremely high rates of savings and investment (although arguably, Singapore was in many ways the epitome of that model, thanks to its mandatory savings scheme which led to gross national savings in the neighborhood of 50 percent for decades).

The larger point is that these three countries augmented physical investment with healthy doses human capital and knowledge; by “opening their windows and letting it [knowledge in various forms, for example, that embodied in FDI] stream in”. And even though the book does not explicitly discuss it, they did so without massive infusions of foreign aid. Or perhaps it was the lack of aid that forced them to be nimble, agile, and forward-looking?

What precisely did SIFIRE get right? 

Can Kenya replicate Indonesia’s turnaround?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

JakartaRecently, a friend from Indonesia visited me in Nairobi. He is one of the world’s leading experts on social development and a long-term Jakarta resident. One of his observations stuck in my mind: “Kenya is just like Indonesia ten years ago”, he said. 

Comparing Kenya with Indonesia is counterintuitive—except perhaps when it comes to traffic jams—because of the many differences between the two countries. Indonesia is the world largest island state with more than 17.000 islands and a demographic heavyweight with 240 million people (six times more than Kenya). It is also 85 percent Muslim, while Kenya is about 85 percent Christian. Indonesia has massive natural resources – coal and gas (and some oil) – that it exports to other Asian countries, especially China, while Kenya’s economy is fuelled by a strong service sector.

There are many more reasons to challenge a comparison between these two countries but when one digs below the surface, there are also some similarities. Economically my friend was spot on: in GDP per capita terms, Kenya is roughly at the level of Indonesia a decade ago (about US$800 per capita). Today Indonesia is far ahead, but I don’t see any reason why Kenya couldn’t follow suit. Indeed, Indonesia is a good benchmark case for Kenya because it was never a “star reformer”, but instead a consistently strong performer.

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