Africa Must Invest in its Primary Education Sector

In this century, education will be the greatest tool for success much more than it has been in the last half of the twentieth century. This is particularly true inAfrica, where most countries spend huge sum of their GDP (including the international aid) on military and defense build-ups. In a world that is increasingly becoming more interdependent and interconnected through commerce, political, and social issues, it is unwise to focus on the strength of military capability while downplaying the importance of education, which is the source of every prosperous society. Hence, it is high time for African leaders to invest in the future of their young and dynamic generation --if they are to do better than their parents by being more productive generation. Thus, serious steps to improve the primary education sector in Africa must be undertaken.

Over the last decade, education spending in Africa has increased 6% every year, according to a report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This increased funding, the report states, has been accompanied by some spectacular results. Such relatively good news highlights the correlation between positive results, which is measured with the quality of life, and the increased funding for education. Out of the 26 countries with comprehensive data, only one – the Central African Republic – reduced education spending since 2000. Overall, sub-Saharan Africa spends 5% of its gross domestic product on education, which is second only to North America and Europe at 5.3% but in one-third of the region's countries, half of all children still do not complete primary education, states Unesco.

More than half of Africa’s population is under the age of 30. This dynamic resource—the youth—gives Africa competitive advantage in the 21st century versus the developed world where their leaders are struggling to find a solution for —not lack of education—but lack of youth. For example, 20% of Japan, Italy, and Germany populations are 65 years and older. In sub-SaharanAfrica, on the other hand, 47% of the overall population is under the age of 15. Furthermore, fiveto 14-year-olds is expected to grow by more than 34% over the next 20 years. This means the region will need to respond to the demands of 77 million new students. Therefore, if educated, Africa’s greatest resource in this century will be her youth. The only other alternative is a social turmoil as result of Africa’s high youth concentration that lack education, which means lower economic status that could in turn encourage regional instability.

In order to empower the youth, the primary education must be high in the educational priorities. According to Unesco, currently, most countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend at least 10 times more on a university student than on a primary school pupil. And on average, eight out of every $10 spent on university education in Africa is subsidised by country governments. These figures explain why a total of 32 million children remain out of school. One way to change this without jeopordizing the tertiary sector is to rearrange the priorites by making the primary education widely available for kids. By shifting more funding to lower level education, governments are making it cheaper; and therefore, more inviting for families of poor or near poor economic status to send their children, particularly girls, to school, as oppose to the students in the tertiary education who tend to come from wealthier backgrounds.

The method for increased funding for the primary education has been proven by Burundi as Unesco highlights; the recent experience of Burundi, which brought the number of out-of-school children down from 723,000 in 1999 to just 10,000 in 2009 was met with international praise and pledge for further assitance. Over the same period, Burundi increased its investment in education from 3.2% of GDP to 8.3%. But what made the real difference, says Unesco, was the decision to dedicate a much larger chunk of the budget to primary education, effectively moving public money away from secondary schools and universities. Thereofore, given this proven succes, no African country can justify for not educating their youth by focusing the primary education sector.

In the meantime, African governments, as part of the global economy, are wrestling with the recent economic crises while facing a looming population growth. As result, African leaders should take a concerete steps to stay ahead of this popluation growth by making strategic decisions on how to budget for education both in the short-term as well as the long-term. One thing is certain, the economic downturn or stagnation in the more developed countries (MDCs) will likely continue at least in the first half of this decade. This means less international aide from these countries to the traditional recepients. Therefore, African leaders should plan ahead by wisely utlizing their resources to look beyond this decade. And the best way to do that is to allocate more funding for primary education.

Finally, it is widely agreed on the brightness of Africa’s future given its rich natural resources as well as human resources. But unless the education trend, particularly the primary sector, is changed upwards, Africa can be its worst nightmare. No country or continent can sustain an explosive population growth with inadaquate education system. Today’s leaders of Africa, if they choose, can be the founding fathers for new Africa—one that catches up the rest of the world in terms of education and productivity; one that invests itsInfrastructure and a better healthcare system. Only then would Africa’s greatness be in full display. As Nelson Mandela once said,"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world". So Africa must change itself, then it will be a lot easier to change the rest of the world.

Abdirahman Takhal

Views: 440

Tags: Education


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Comment by Maheswar Satpathy on March 20, 2012 at 1:51am

I agree...every developing nation should focus on the primary education as well as higher education as tools to development...In this situation, Education for Africa is more than essential for its development

Comment by henry on March 19, 2012 at 11:24pm

There is no doubt, the only way of upgrading either a community or public services is by providing quality and experience. We can not dodge this issue, The continent truly has to look into the issue of investing in the primary education because this is the foundation. I made a visit at one the Primary schools hear in Asia and I was really shocked to see that Children were so creative, they had all the facilities needed to come up with a project, still when I visited another school, technology was order of the day. Sub-Saharan Governments will have to look into the issue of investing in Education for a better future. Thank you for this article. 

Comment by Abdul-Mumin Yussif on March 18, 2012 at 3:55am

I totally agree to that and without education all what we are doing will not be achievable and is time for us to stand up and make a change.

Comment by Sheela Daskara on March 17, 2012 at 5:48pm
True, primary education important. At the same time economic development crucial. If educated youth are on the streets, looking for employment without success, would bring disastrous results. So, yes, we will talk about basic education, but not forget the economic development that provied the sustenance in the long run.
Comment by Libby and Len Traubman on March 17, 2012 at 3:31pm

Abdirahman, yes!!!   Africa can be a light to the world.  Yet some education can be people-intensive and not so money-intensive.  And citizens independent of governments can do what governments don't do so well -- changing human relationships and building true community!!!  One example is in the new 2012 film that can be requested cost-free on DVD anywhere in the world:


DIALOGUE IN NIGERIA: Muslims & Christians Creating Their Future

Comment by balikuddembe on March 17, 2012 at 2:47pm

Thanks alot. I studied in Uganda right a way from Primary one to University. Its true in Africa primary education is not given priority yet it is the core for the student next education levels. But as we speak now the trend is changing as the private sector has invested much in the primary education  and medium income class parents are willing to take their kids to well off schools. 

In Uganda Primary education is free of charge in Govt schools and private Govt aided ones, the only challenge faced by these Govt schools is the quality of education they give out to pupils. I disagree with the teaching that the curriculum of uganda education system is making more job seekers than job creators. I believe in any economy there has to be job creators and seekers else who will work for the other if we all start our own jobs.

Comment by Richard Close on March 17, 2012 at 2:37pm

The key is a shift in curriculum so you do not have countries were 79% of college graduates are underemployed or not employed. We are doing workshops on this Africa now.

We need a foundation shift in approach, curriculum and learning strategies. Think about training student to create new jobs rather than for jobs that are not there.

You can see our work ar

Webinar Webinar: Methods and Techniques for Web 2.0 Project Based L... from Richard C Close on Vimeo.

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