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In West Africa, education = jobs and jobs = development

Adaiah Lilenstein's picture
Adaiah Lilenstein, guest blogger, is a Junior Researcher at the Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU), South Africa

Job creation is a crucial aspect of development. And broad-based, high-quality education is crucial for inclusive, or pro-poor, development. A well-educated work-force allows workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions. Well-educated people are also more likely to help create jobs through entrepreneurship, innovation and invention. Relatedly, better educated individuals also lead to higher labor productivity and, as a consequence, higher growth. Over a long-term period, higher education levels are also related to lower fertility rates, which means less strain on the economy to create new jobs for labor force entrants in the future.
Given these numerous positive effects of education for jobs and development, it is unfortunate that many countries still have a majority of the population that cannot read, write or do simple mathematics. Worryingly low levels of educational quantity (how many children get to go to school) as well as educational quality (how many of the children who are in school acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills) show that there is a crisis of education in many African countries. If inclusive growth is to pull people into the labor market and out of poverty, this must be addressed.
The proportion of children in school, and the proportion of children in school who acquire basic skills, are not the only measures of educational quantity and quality. But when taken together, they are a useful way to understand national educational landscapes. Combining these two measures provides an estimate of how many children in the population have access to school and also acquire basic literacy or numeracy standards. This index is termed ‘access to literacy’ or ‘access to numeracy’ respectively.
In developing countries, a large proportion of children never go to school or drop out early. Another large portion are in school but do not learn to read, write or do math. In this context, the access to literacy and numeracy rates are more telling, than the in-school literacy and numeracy rates or the access rates, because in-school rates refer to the portion of those in school, rather than in the population, who achieve basic learning standards.
I have investigated the quantity and quality aspects of education for five West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo). The quantity of education was defined as the proportion of children in the population that completed Grade 5 and quality of education was defined as the proportion of children in Grade 5 who acquired basic literacy/numeracy skills according to a Grade 5 regional assessment program for West Africa by the name of PASEC.
I found that access to literacy and access to numeracy rates were under 50% for all countries, and between 10% and 20% for most. In the figures below, only those in the upper left quadrants were considered to have access to literacy or numeracy.
Source: Author's calculations. 

The pattern of access and quality issues differed between countries, with Benin and Togo having particularly high levels of children who were in school but not acquiring literacy and numeracy skills, and Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Senegal having particularly high levels of non-enrolment. However, all countries still had disastrously high levels of the three indicators – non-enrolment, dropouts and lack of learning within school.
Source: Author's calculations.

Within each country there was also an extraordinarily high level of inequality in educational outcomes when separated by wealth levels, as seen in the table below. The richest 20% of children in the five countries had an access to literacy rate of between 23% and 54% and an access to numeracy rate of between 22% and 70%, which is relatively high considering the average rates already discussed, although still very low by international standards.
In contrast, of the poorest 40% of children only between 6% and 9% had access to literacy and only between 4% and 27% had access to numeracy. Given that these are only estimates of the true access to literacy and numeracy rates, in some countries there is a very real possibility that none of the poorest children are learning how to read and write (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Togo) or do math (Ivory Coast).

With such low rates of literacy and numeracy, especially among the poor but also among the rich, how can these countries be expected to create valuable employment for all of their citizens? Getting education right is a crucial first step on the road to creating better employment and reducing poverty. It must be considered a priority by national governments and donors alike.

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