One in five primary school-age children in Africa are out of school. Only two in three children in the region complete primary school by age 15. Among those who do, at most 2 in 10 achieve minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics, meaning that children in Africa are overall at least five time less likely than their peers in the rest of the world to be prepared for the future.
This morning, at the gathering of African education ministers at the ADEA Triennale, we published the findings of the first of a three-part series of Spotlight reports called Spotlight on basic education completion and foundational learning in Africa: Born to learn. The Spotlight series is a new partnership between the GEM Report, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and the African Union. In reviewing the steps taken towards achieving universal basic education completion and foundational learning in Africa, it aims to ensure this issue is on top of policymakers’ agendas. The 2022 continental report draws on five accompanying country reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal and a series of case studies from all African regions.
The Spotlight series synthesises and analyses comparative knowledge on challenges and solutions to achieving universal basic education completion and foundational learning to support:
- a continental peer learning mechanism; and
- national and regional coalitions to move national education systems, plans, policies and budgets – but also international support mechanisms – in the right direction
An analytical framework of seven factors that promote learning underlines the research carried out in all the Spotlight publications.
The term ‘learning crisis’, which is commonly used, suggests low learning levels are a new challenge. However, in most countries learning levels on the continent have been low and stable for a long time. This fact needs to inform policy dialogue in search of new solutions.
The 2022 report finds that the limited availability of textbooks of good quality, lack of proper teacher support, training and teacher guides, limited progress in the introduction of home languages in teaching and insufficient school feeding programmes, are key factors that affect poor learning outcomes in Africa.
Yet, recent interventions show that progress is possible if efforts are focused on classroom practices that are informed by evidence. These positive practices highlighted in the report and other experiences are to feed into a peer-learning mechanism on foundational learning hosted by the AU that has been launched alongside this report, the Leveraging Education Analysis for Results Network (LEARN).
The commitment to achieve progress is also found in the national SDG 4 benchmarks on out-of-school, completion and learning rates that have been set by African governments with support from the GEM Report and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. By 2030, African governments have committed to raising the primary completion rate to 90%.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Give all children a textbook: Ensure all children have teaching materials, which are research-based and locally developed. There is one textbook for every three children on the continent yet having their own textbook can increase a child’s literacy scores by up to 20%. Senegal’s Lecture pour tous project ensured textbooks were high quality.
- Teach all children in their home language: Give all children the opportunity to learn to read in the language they understand. Just one in five African children are taught in their home language. Mozambique’s recent expansion of bilingual education covers around a quarter of primary schools, with children learning under the new approach achieving outcomes 15% higher than those studying the monolingual curriculum.
- Provide all children with a school meal: Give all children the minimum conditions to learn: zero hungry pupils in school. Today, only one in three primary school students in Africa receive a school meal. Rwanda has committed to deliver school meals to all children from pre-primary to lower secondary education and offered to cover 40% of the cost.
- Make a clear plan to improve learning: Define learning standards, set targets and monitor outcomes to inform the national vision. There is no information on learning levels of two-thirds of children. The Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project is working on a framework for learning accountability, which includes development of national standardized assessment tests at grades 2 and 4.
- Develop teacher capacity: Ensure all teachers use classroom time effectively through training and teacher guides. A recent study covering 13 countries, 8 of them in sub-Saharan Africa, found that projects with teacher guides could significantly increase reading fluency. Benin has been developing teacher guides that are aligned to new textbooks.
- Prepare instructional leaders: Restructure support mechanisms offered to teachers and schools. The Tusome programme in Kenya, which combined school support and monitoring with effective leadership has seen improvements equivalent to one additional year of schooling for children.
- Learn from peers: Reinvigorate mechanisms for countries to share experiences on foundational literacy and numeracy.
- Focus aid on institution building: Shift from projects to provision of public goods that support foundational learning
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