Of the total US$15.4 billion pledged by the international community at the end of the first day of the meeting of the Consultative Group on Côte d’Ivoire held on May 17, 2016 in Paris, the World Bank Group (IDA, IFC, MIGA) will commit the sum of US$5 billion (CFAF 2500 billion) to finance Côte d’Ivoire’s Second National Development Plan (NDP) covering the period 2016-2020. This amount is double the sum allocated during the previous period (2012-2016), proof—if any were needed—that the World Bank is more than ever committed to helping Côte d’Ivoire achieve emerging country status. This new country partnership framework between the World Bank Group and Côte d’Ivoire is an important milestone.
Most parents in Africa will tell you that their children’s education is the most important investment they can make. Over the past decade, great progress has been made in terms of getting children into school, with countries such as Benin, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia recording primary net enrollment of over 90 percent. But across the continent, primary school completion and youth literacy rates remain unacceptably low.
Today, four in five African primary-school-age kids are enrolled in school, with more joining at a later age. This is a major change and achievement, and should bode well for Africa’s upcoming generations. Only 20 years ago, barely half the kids were in school. Progress has been faster even for girls, with the gender gap in net primary school enrollment now down to four percentage points (compared with eight percentage points in 1995).
Following the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, attention to education increased dramatically. At least in terms of enrollment, this seems to have paid off, so much so that education has lost its earlier top spot on the international development agenda. Since 2000, the solutions train has been set in motion, the illiteracy challenge seems to be taken care of, and attention has shifted elsewhere.
Against this background, the latest Word Bank report “Poverty in a Rising Africa” finds that 42% of Africa’s adults, about two in five, or a whopping 215 million people, are still illiterate, down from 46% in 1995. And make no mistake; this does not imply functional literacy for the remaining part of the population. The literacy tests applied are simply too rudimentary, and gross secondary school enrollment rates also only still stand at 46%.
Africa’s remarkable economic growth has been accompanied by the concern that the benefits of the economic growth are not shared broadly. Growth may only go so far; when inequality and lack of social mobility persist, children are effectively born disadvantaged.
There have been gains in schooling in the region. Data from the UNESCO shows that the primary adjusted net enrollment ratio increased from 59% in 1999 to 79% in 2012. Education is becoming more inclusive, but that doesn’t mean African children have an equal chance.
One way to view whether educational opportunities are becoming more equal across children is to look at “education mobility” between generations. Does the next generation of children have more educational mobility than their parents? In Poverty in a Rising Africa report, we investigate trends in the intergenerational transmission of education over 50 years. This work draws on two indicators of mobility traditionally used to access such mobility: the intergenerational gradient and the correlation coefﬁcient between parents and children years of schooling. The intergenerational gradient is simply the regression coefficient of parents’ education as a predictor of children education. It measures intergenerational persistence--a lower the value indicates more intergenerational mobility. The correlation between parents and children years of schooling shows how much of the dispersion in children's education is explained by parental education -- a lower value also indicates more intergenerational mobility.
Will Africa benefit economically from its current fertility transition? Between 1990 and 2010, Africa’s birth rate fell from 6.2 to 4.9 births per woman. Such a decline was expected to enhance the region’s schooling and development prospects, by creating a historical opportunity for a ‘demographic dividend.’ In theory, dividends result from a temporary reduction in age-dependency ratios as birth rates fall. In practice however, dividends and the conditions under which they emerge are hard to pin down.
Based on new data and research, there is reason for optimism about Africa’s demography and development. Population growth rates may continue to be high for some more time, but some underlying signals of approaching widespread fertility declines indicate change is in the offing. And, along with incipient changes in the economy, there is reason to expect Africa to be on an upswing. Growing up in Calcutta, we were brought up on Rabindranath Tagore’s magisterial Bengali poem, Africa, in which, referring to the forces of colonialism, the poet talked about how this continent full of potential is repressed by “civilization’s barbaric greed.” The time has now come for Africa to seize the moment.
As international donors gather this week in Brussels to mobilize resources for Guinea-Bissau, the government and people of this West African nation appear ready for a fresh start.
Africa’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2014, much faster than the global average of 1.7 percent as estimated from UN population projection data. During this time, the region experienced a demographic transition, moving from a period of high mortality and fertility rates to one of lower mortality, yet still high fertility rates. Other regions, most notably East Asia, took advantage of their transitions to accelerate growth, and reap a so-called ‘demographic dividend’. Africa is now being presented a similar opportunity.
“I am always hungry, as oftentimes my family and I skip meals. I want to go to school like my friends, but my parents always say it is too expensive. If I go to school, then I can’t work to help them buy food, and then I am hungry again. I am helpless when it comes to changing my situation, I have no voice and there are few people that see things the way I do.”
From my seat as an Education economist at the World Bank, I go through a number of strategies from countries and sectors in Africa outlining how best to achieve economic growth and development. I am repeatedly struck by a key question: Who will do it? Who will add value to African exports? Who will build? Who will invent? Who will cure? The answer is, of course, that graduates from African universities and training institutions should do it. But the problem is one of numbers and quality—there are simply not enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and programs are of uneven quality.