Despite the progress, education in sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind other parts of the world.
None of the sub-Saharan African countries achieved the goal of universal primary education by 2015, and the continent includes 10 out of the 20 countries with the lowest performing education sectors in the world. Data from the UN agency Unesco shows that in southern Asia, progress in school enrolment, albeit from the higher base of 75 per cent, reached 94 per cent of all primary school children by 2015, compared with 78 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s the same for gender equality. In sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of girls to boys in primary schooling has improved marginally, from eight girls to every ten boys to nine girls to every ten boys in 2015. Meanwhile in south Asia, where only 15 girls were in primary school to every 20 boys in 1990, there is now gender parity. Why the difference? A big part of the answer is the persistence of the conditions that most militate against education. The main one is conflict, not just international wars of the type that tore apart Asia and Europe, but internal conflict that displaces communities and destroys assets such as school buildings.
A case in point is South Sudan, the world’s newest country and one of its poorest, the economy flattened by half a century of struggle for independence from the north, and followed by intermittent internal conflict between different ethnic groups. It’s left over half of South Sudan’s children out of school. Despite its tiny population, about 11 million, it accounts for an astonishing one million of the world’s out-of-school primary children. That’s almost twice the number as for the whole of Bangladesh with its 157 million people. Conflict too weighs disproportionately on girls and women, as reflected in the wide gender disparities in South Sudan.
Africa Educational Trust has been working there since 1997: with the government to build up the shattered education infrastructure and with the community to provide education on the ground. We’ve tackled some of the barriers to girls’ education with the provision of school mothers who act as mentors to stem school drop-out and provided education, especially in language skills for returnees and young people who missed out on schooling due to war. It’s tough stuff, requiring innovative methods and a local workforce who can cope with challenging circumstances. In some cases conflict has forced groups to disperse and then regroup to resume their learning.
The Africa Educational Trust is a specialist organisation that believes supporting quality education is key for changing individuals, communities and countries for the better. It operates projects across four countries in East Africa that encompass teacher training, support for young female students, the provision of lending libraries and mentoring services. Find out more at http://africaeducationaltrust.org/