More than 30 million children of primary school-age in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school, UNICEF and UNESCO revealed yesterday in a shocking report, adding that more than two-thirds of them are in West and Central Africa.
“West and Central Africa have the world’s highest out-of-school rate, at 28%, which means that about 19 million primary school-age children in this region are excluded from education,” UNESCO regional director for the Sahel, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, said.
This is not surprising because West Africa has one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates as millions of people, including adults, cannot read and write, let alone write their own names.
Niger, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Nigeria are the worst case studies, and in these parts of the world boys are given priority to attend school over girls, and this worsens the illiteracy rate among Africa’s women and jeopardises their future, a Moon of the South investigation has found.
Children as young as four in many parts of West Africa, especially in rural areas, are simply thrown into religious schools, where they will only learn Islam and read the Qur’an until the age of 11 or so. And later they are told to work to feed themselves. Without education and skills, they have no choice but to go on the streets to beg or do menial jobs.
The lack of schooling is largely the result of two factors: first, countries must overcome a historical legacy of limited access to education for the rural populations, Ndong-Jatta said, adding that countries were also struggling to keep up with the rising demand for quality education from a growing school-age population
Other causes include poverty and shortage of schools, as most attend in overcrowded classrooms or under a tree without adequate learning materials, and taught by poorly-qualified and unpaid teachers.
Nevertheless, the report said that millions who are in school are learning little.
“In West and Central Africa, one out of five school-aged children will never enter a classroom. More classrooms and more qualified teachers are required, but these alone will not be sufficient to get millions of the most marginalised children into school,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, said.
“Families often cannot afford school fees or the cost of basic school supplies.”
With overcrowded classrooms and insufficient learning materials and teachers, large numbers of children repeat grades and drop out from school without mastering the basics, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said.
“This is a particularly serious concern given the close links between learning outcomes and national economies,” she added.
However, while the report found that access to primary school education improved between 2000 and 2007, it pointed out that progress has stalled since 2008.
The report urged African governments and donors to provide free and better education and to make sure children stay in school.
Photo: Schoolchildren in Africa. Credit: Dreamstime