Published on Africa Can End Poverty

#AfricaACTs on education: The future of West and Central African children is being shaped in today’s schools

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Le Sahel de demain se construit à l?école aujourd?hui Le Sahel de demain se construit à l’école aujourd’hui

“Education represents an effective shield against extremism and obscurantism. It is a critical factor in fighting against poverty and inequality, strengthening the social contract by teaching citizenship and promoting sustainable social and economic development, thus contributing to the stability and security of countries," said Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who hosted the Sahel Education Summit in Nouakchott on December 5, 2021.

On that day, the leaders of Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad signed a groundbreaking declaration, calling for the creation of a Sahel coalition that would put education at the center of their development strategies and transform the future of every child and young adult in the Sahel.

The World Bank's Sahel Education White Paper launched during the summit shows that despite progress in access to schooling, the children of the Sahel are being left behind. Between 2005 and 2018, school enrollment in the region has nearly doubled for primary education and tripled for secondary. Yet, about nine out of ten pupils do not reach the expected learning levels in reading and writing by the end of primary school. This is in part due to the fact that two out of five Sahelian schoolchildren do not complete their primary education and girls, in particular, are at risk of dropping out. Moreover, the challenges of developing an inclusive and well-performing education system are being further exacerbated by the combined crises of COVID-19, conflict and climate change. These have all combined to negatively impact the socio-emotional well-being of millions of learners. 

The Sahel, ready to take community-based schooling innovations to scale

The Sahel, ready to take community-based schooling innovations to scale
@ World Bank/Dorte Verner

A lot remains to be done, and this is the raison d’être of the Nouakchott Declaration. Rapid demographic growth requires more schools and more teachers every year. Increasingly connected and changing economies also need more relevant skills and curricula, adapted to the realities on the ground. School closures, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or security threats have also exacerbated preexisting inequalities.  

In the past decades, Sahelian societies have grown more resilient and innovative community-based solutions have emerged, often led by parents and communities. In 1989, the Ministry of Education of Mauritania delegated the responsibility for building schools to parents’ associations; as a result, nearly 1000 good quality classrooms were built in a year, four times the original plans. A similar program was implemented in Burkina Faso with a focus on girls and rural areas, leading to significant improvements in both girls’ and boys’ access to secondary education. This approach has benefited children from all backgrounds.

Community-based solutions also allow better use of existing school infrastructure. In Senegal, the Improving Quality and Equity of Basic Education Project, financed by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), has helped Koranic schools or daaras to provide foundational skills to pupils. The original project has already benefited 14,000 students in 100 daaras and is being scaled up to reach 36,000 students.

Lessons from West and Central Africa

Sahel Women?s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project
@ World Bank/ Stephan Gladieu

In recent years, countries like Ghana and Sierra Leone have introduced promising policies to promote learning outcomes. In Nigeria, Edo state has launched a whole system reform approach that leverages modern digital technologies backed by the science of learning to improve teaching and learning processes. Multisectoral approaches, including the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project, which spans nine countries in the region, provide support for keeping girls in school through engagement with religious leaders and communities, ensuring safe spaces and providing transportation for girls.

Building on the World Bank’s White Paper on Education in Sahel, the World Bank is preparing a new Regional Education Strategy for Western and Central Africa that will include a roadmap of interventions to tackle the learning crisis in basic education, keep girls in school and provide second chances for illiterate young adults who dropped out or never attended school. The Strategy is benefiting from consultations in the region with a wide range of experts and stakeholders in the region. 

With the pledging meeting of the 20th IDA replenishment taking place this week, and given its strong focus on education and human capital, reversing learning losses from COVID-19 and ensuring better and safer educational spaces for everyone, particularly for girls, are core objectives for the region. Given the strong engagement of the highest authorities and the importance of education to sustain and nurture future generations, it is time to help countries implement priority reforms, to better serve the children and young adults of West and Central Africa!

The blog is part of a series on ways to ensure a resilient recovery from COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. For the latest, follow @WBG_IDA and #IDAworks.


Ousmane Diagana

Vice President, Western and Central Africa

Mamta Murthi

Vice President for Human Development

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