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Public Sector and Governance

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.

If Kenya was a member of the Euro zone – Lessons in managing debt sustainably

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

As European leaders convened in Brussels to find solutions—yet again!—to the debt crisis in the Euro zone, Kenyans are witnessing the old continent’s woes with a mix of surprise and self-satisfaction. 

If only Greece had managed its debt like Kenya, Europe would be in a much better shape today. Greece’s debt would be standing at 45 percent of GDP, less than a third of what it actually is. Recent global economic history would need to be rewritten and Europe’s sick nation would be a macroeconomic success, with the luxury of deciding how to spend its resources well, rather than scrambling to mobilize them. 

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.

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.

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.

To boost trade between Ghana and Nigeria: implement existing commitments

Mombert Hoppe's picture

Most people seem to think that intra-African trade could be substantially larger than it currently is. This would explain the recent statement of the heads of the African Union to “boost” intra-African trade substantially and to create an Africa-wide Free Trade Area by 2017.

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.  

Big shifts and what they mean for Africa and Kenya

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Can Africa claim the 21st century? When the World Bank’s Africa department published this book in April 2000, most observers were doubtful that African countries would ever be in a position to become emerging markets. That year, The Economist called Africa “The hopeless continent” and global attention was focused mainly on Africa’s problems: HIV/Aids in Southern Africa; the relentless war in Somalia; and, droughts in the Sahel—which gave the pessimists plenty of ammunition. 

But over the last several years, something remarkable has happened: Africa’s fragile and conflict-affected countries remain a major development challenge, but besides these, a Stable Africa has emerged. Most of this Stable Africa has experienced continued high growth for a decade, and major improvements in social indicators. Africa is becoming an investment destination, and there is hardly a week which goes by without a major investor dropping by my office, to discuss the region’s economic fundamentals.

How has Africa changed over the last decades?

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