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What’s behind poor education outcomes in Côte d’Ivoire?

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Today, young Ivorian students spend on average only eight years in the classroom while pupils in emerging countries spend almost the double (14 years). As if this wasn’t worrisome enough, studies show that this gap has widened over time and that the quality of education has deteriorated. At the end of the primary school cycle, less than half of Ivorian students have the required reading or mathematics skills, as evidenced in the graph below. These statistics illustrate the extent of the effort needed to make up for lost time, a challenge that the Ivorian authorities are set on tackling as the country embarks on the path of emergence.
And for good reason. Countries such as South Korea and Malaysia have succeeded in transitioning to emerging market status thanks to their investments in building some of the best education systems in the world. For the Nobel Prize winner in economics, Robert Lucas Jr. and the  World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, economic development depends above all on a country's ability to value its human capital. This not only allows the country to increase its current added value but also to create tomorrow’s technological innovations.
 Employment Benchmark, 2016.)
This graph presents a regional comparison of the acquisition of mathematics and French skills at the end of the primary school cycle.
(Source: World Bank, Côte d'Ivoire: Employment Benchmark, 2016.)

Ivorian authorities have set ambitious objectives for the education sector such as the provision of free education until the age of 16, the establishment of centers of excellence, and the support to private schools. To this end, the government has started mobilizing financing and intends to increase the share of its budget allocated to the education sector. However, it will most likely require more resources to build new schools, hire more teachers, and acquire modern teaching materials. Demographic growth and the desire to catch up are likely to increase the financial needs of the sector and to create an imbalance in the State budget if the latter does not improve the efficiency of its education expenditures simultaneously.

Ensuring that each franc injected into the education system produces maximum results is just as noble as it is ambitious. At a minimum, the Ivorian government should ensure that teachers teach better, private schools are more responsive to families’ expectations, and administrative costs remain affordable. The Ivorian educational system has a long way to go in these three areas, even in comparison with other West African countries, knowing that staff salaries, subsidies to private schools, and administrative costs absorb more than 90% of public funds dedicated to education.

In a report entitled “The Challenge of Building Skills: Why Côte d’Ivoire Needs to Reform its Education System”, which we are publishing at the beginning of February, we explored several possibilities of reform aimed at improving the quality of education in Côte d’Ivoire. There is undoubtedly a need to formulate a social pact where all stakeholders agree on the way forward. Teachers, parents, trade unions, the Ministry of Education, and private institutions will have to align their goals and carry out together the reforms that will enable Côte d'Ivoire to build an education system that meets its expectations. One thing is clear to all: continuing with the status quo is inconceivable.

Jacques Morisset is the chief economist at the World Bank office in Abidjan, and one of the main authors of the fourth Economic Update entitled “The Challenge of Building Skills: Why Côte d'Ivoire Needs Reform its Education System”.


Jacques Morisset

Lead Economist and Program Leader, World Bank

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