The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 4 is "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all". This follows the relatively successful Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) for 2015, that sought to achieve universal primary education.
Apart from the need to provide education as a basic human right, developing economies especially have a pressing need for education and training as a means to addressing rising unemployment in both rural and urban areas as well as to provide the necessary human capital for national socio-economic development.
Education in Africa especially has made phenomenal gains over the last fifty years. Much has also changed, however, over the same period and a considerable shift in education strategy is called for in many African countries.
Africa’s growing population has for a long time outstripped the continents ability to provide matching investment in education and related facilities. In Kenya, for example, in the year 2013, the country’s 7,425 secondary schools could only absorb 628,051 of the 819,295 students that sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination, meaning that high school education for up to 191,244 (23%) was in jeopardy.
This implies a transition rate of 77%, which is undesirably low at this level of education, particularly at a time when the government is pursuing universal basic education, understood to mean primary and secondary education.
Primary school enrollment rates in East Africa are as high as 90%, but 30-40% of students leave before they complete primary school, with a significant other proportion simply not accessing secondary school education for a host of reasons.
This capacity gap subsists through to tertiary institutions. For example, though the official minimum entry grade to Kenyan universities is C+, the country’s twenty-two chartered public universities’ limited bed and classroom capacity does not allow them to absorb all qualifying students.
In the year 2011, for example, public universities were only able to admit 35% of the qualifying students, leaving the rest to seek alternative, and the more expensive, route to a university education as private students in local public universities (approximately 30%); as students in local private universities, which take up approximately 20% of eligible students and the balance of university seeking students pursuing undergraduate education outside the country.
Private educational institutions, if their quality of management and education can be guaranteed, provide an ideal solution for Africa’s education capacity constraints since they expand public access to education without adding pressure to government expenditure. The relatively high cost of private education in Africa, howver, puts this option far beyond the reach for many.
In a country such as Kenya, where close to 50% of the population lives in poverty, and the middle class earning between Ksh. 23,672 (USD 283) and Ksh. 119,999 (USD 1,433) per month, the cost of education can easily translate to between 60 and 80% of the average household’s income.
With competing demand for food, healthcare, housing and transport added to demands accruing from the country’s high social dependency rate, (good) education is frequently simply unaffordable. Affordability of education is one of the key challenges that Kenya sought to address through the introduction of free primary education in 2003.
To finance free education, the Government of Kenya, for example allocates Ksh. 1,020 (USD 12) per pupil per year for the 9 million primary school pupils in public primary schools, and Ksh. 10,265 (USD 121) per student per year, for 2 million secondary school students in 6,654 public secondary schools. At "individual"per-student" level, this amount may not seem much, but collectively, it translates into a considerable amount for the government.
While primary education is “free” in much of Africa, however, there are several additional levies and costs charged, which mean that for the very poorest and most vulnerable, school remains out of reach. Notwithstanding, fees and charges levied on parents and guardians are inevitable given the level of funding that government allocates to free education.
Teachers are the most expensive, and the most important, resource in the education process. According to a study by UNESCO, teacher costs as a percentage of total education expenditure range from 40% (Botswana) to 90% (Ethiopia), noting that in the primary education sector this figure is consistently in the range between 85% and 99% for almost all developing countries.
The high cost of teacher salaries is, however, somewhat misleading. Due to the very low funding of education in many countries, teacher salaries may consume up to 99% of primary education expenditure, but with teachers’ salaries starting at an average of Ksh. 20,000 (USD 235) a month, individual teachers live barely above the poverty line.
The challenge in affordability of education arguably negates the importance of education as a means to socioeconomic empowerment and the redistribution of income, since the wealthy continue to access good education for their children, and the poor continue to only be able access poor quality education, and status quo is maintained.
Free Primary Education (FPE) is a response to the World Conference Education for all held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 and the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, in pursuit to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 targeting Universal Primary Education (UPE) by the year 2005.
Many African countries have significantly raised school enrollment rates on the back of the FPE programme. In Kenya, for example, primary school enrollment increased by over 66% between 2003 (5.9 million to 9.8 million). The number of students that sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) also increased from 587,961 in 2003 to 811,930 in 2012. Primary school transition over the same period was well above 70%.
This sharp increase in school enrollment has, unfortunately, led to serious challenges relating to the quality of education in much of Africa, and jeopardized the socioeconomic benefits otherwise attainable from increased school enrollment.
In much of East Africa classrooms, especially in primary schools, are overcrowded – some having up to 80 students, teachers are inadequate, and teaching resources simply not enough to match demand. More than half of the students that sat the KCPE examination between 2003 and 2012 scored less than 200 out of a possible 500 marks and are unable to secure high school education. Public schools that previously sent more than 50% of their students to public, national high schools now send as low as less than 5%.
In 2009, the government of Kenya introduced Free Secondary Education (FSE) in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goal “universal education for all by the year 2015”. This was hit by problems relating to underfunding, with the government providing only Ksh. 10,265 (USD 121) per student per year, which was not enough to finance the many learning requirements that secondary education places on schools. The resultant low quality of free public secondary education cannot therefore be said to be adequately preparing secondary school students, and especially those that do not move on to university, for modern, progressive and competitive living.
With the decline in quality and test scores at public schools, the number of graduates of private academies across Africa have increased in the best high schools, colleges and universities, forcing governments to take affirmative action, such as in Kenya where two-thirds of the seats in public secondary schools are reserved for students coming from public primary schools, but which practice has been criticized as reverse discrimination. Currently, over 100,000 Kenyan students pursue university studies abroad, at a cost of over Ksh. 90B (USD 1.07B) to the country each year.
Access to education may have been enhanced over the last ten years, but the quality of education in sub-Saharan Africa continues to present a serious challenge to the attainment of the many national development goals that depend on a well educated population in each country.
Professional, trained teachers are in high demand all over Africa. At primary school level, for example, with student-teacher ratios as high as 1:60, many more teachers are required to realise the continent's potential through education. This shortage of qualified teachers both impacts on accessibility to education, and on the quality of education that those that are able to access education actually get.
Four million new primary school teachers were needed in East Africa alone to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015, which was one of the reasons why the universal education target was missed.
Because of the overall underfunding of education in much of Africa, very little is put to the training and development of teachers. In addition, while teachers' salaries take the biggest part of education budgets across the world, earnings accruing to individual teachers are not attractive, and do not help to reduce the prvailing shortage of teachers.
Competition in the job market has also pushed the qualifications that teachers are pursuing, to the point that it threatens the close relationship that needs to exist between the continent's real manpower requirements and the quality of manpower available to meet these requirements.
While, for example, there is definitely need to upskill Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers, their contribution to basic education must not be locked out through the introduction of advanced ECE degrees.
For Africa to fully exploit its potential for economic growth and reduce its growing social inequalities, African governments need to urgently increase their resourcing educational institutions, which must necessarily include increased budgetary allocation to teacher training at all levels, and particularly in the development of technical and vocational education and training.
Increased investment in education, healthcare and the elimination of dire poverty in many African countries over the years has considerably reduced investment in job-creation, leaving the continent with many highly educated but with not as many jobs for them to get into.
This has put education in the continent under further scrutiny in terms of its relevance, benefit and usefulness as a means to personal development and the redistribution of income.
This problem is most acutely felt at tertiary level, where educational curriculum and the number of graduands does not seem to match the continent’s job market and national development requirements.
Development of middle-level technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions is an ideal way of making education respond to Kenya’s and Africa’s real development requirements.
Investment in middle-level technical institutions and technical universities, would form a strong base for the development of a technically competent labour force, which the continent needs industrialise and to otherwise optimally exploit its potential through the advancement of manufacturing, engineering and other technical professional disciplines.
In Kenya, for example, there are 47 TVETs, which are nonetheless under-resourced, and for which reason they are not able to effectively play their role in the country’s development.
Due to the high investment and recurrent costs related to science, engineering and medicine programmes, few private universities offer courses in this area, which arguably defeats the contribution they might otherwise make to the job market and the continent’s overall human resource requirements.
Though community and private investment in education contributes significantly to bridging capacity gaps in education across the continent, governance and management of private educational institutions is always a concern.
Global research in education has, in particular, shown that that when public expenditure on education declines, there is almost always a decline in access and quality which inequitably impacts on girls, minorities, the poor and other marginalised groups. Yet, existing policies for financing, management and accountability have not kept pace with the growth of private investment in education in Africa.
In Kenya, for example, the government’s Ministry of Education issues guidelines for the management of private educational institutions through licensing requirements but is not able to do much with respect to operations management, quality of faculty, fiscal management and academic performance among other critical elements that impact on the quality of education that such institutions are able to deliver.
Well managed private educational institutions focused on providing relevant and wholesome education have, over time, distinguished themselves and created a competitive niche within which they are able to obtain profitable fees, attract various academic, industrial and commercial partnerships and on the whole guarantee their growth and sustainability. This is hard work for educational institutions, which for the large part are considered somewhat different from corporate organizations.
Even in the management of public schools, devolution and decentralisation of education management would need to be accompanied by the enhancement of local capacity for fiscal planning and management, as well as a reliable process of ensuring equitable access to education and a commitment to monitoring performance standards across the country.
Tropical pests and diseases are another major concern for Africa's agricultural industry. Low levels of education across the continent are largely responsible for the lack of knowledge and information on how to avoid or manage pests and diseases.
Poor farming practices along with poor handling and storage continue to present Africa’s agricultural industry with pre and post- harvest losses, which, given the industry's close connection to the country's economy have a direct impact on a wide range of the continent's development performance indicators.
Increased access to relevant education and information on modern farming methods can considerably reduce the effect of pests and disease in Africa's agricultural industry, as well as enhance the industry's overall productivity.
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