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Education and

Sub-Saharan Africa

Key message

Sub-Saharan Africa


By 2050, half of the increase in the global youth population will come from sub-Saharan Africa, already the world’s youngest region, doubling its share of the world’s workforce to 20%. This injection of youth holds tremendous potential for growth and development, but the region’s progress can be no quicker than its progress in education. While advances in education have been made, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of exclusion from education: nearly 60% of young people are out of school. Children in the region experience low levels of learning, with only 7% of late primary students proficient in reading and 14% in maths. Compounding these concerns, African governments are expected to cut education budgets in the wake of Covid-19, with donors likely to follow suit. Maintaining continuity of these investments and marshalling additional contributions will set the stage for the next generation of youth to harness the continent’s vast potential.
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Key challenges
  • New and additional sources of funding for education are required. Sub-Saharan Africa currently faces an annual education financing gap of US$40 billion.
    (AfDB, 2020)
  • Education needs to be a clear priority which transcends political priorities. Since 2015, there have been more than 25 changes in leadership across sub-Saharan Africa.
    (ISPI, 2020)
  • Adequate infrastructure is needed to provide quality education for all in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 34% of primary schools in the region have access to electricity and 44% have access to clean drinking water.
    (UNESCO UIS, 2019).
  • Investment in teachers is crucial. More than six million new teachers are needed in the region to achieve universal primary education by 2030 — the largest total of any global region.
    (UNESCO UIS, 2016)
  • Investment in the education and professional development of teachers in the region is important. Across six African countries surveyed, 84% of Grade 4 teachers do not meet the minimum learning levels.
    (World Bank, 2019)
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Make the case
  • Providing quality education for all in sub-Saharan Africa would increase productivity and generate significant economic growth. If the region were to realise the highest education and health scores on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, GDP per worker could increase as much as 250%.
    (Brookings, 2020)
  • Improving the efficiency of public education spending in sub-Saharan Africa would significantly advance access to education. If spending efficiency for public education in Africa was the same as in Latin America, the primary school completion rate would increase from 79% to 98%.
    (AfDB, 2020)
  • Providing early childhood education in sub-Saharan Africa yields significant returns. Every dollar spent towards tripling pre-primary education enrolment in the region could yield a return of as much as $33 return on investment.
    (Copenhagen Consensus Centre, 2016)
  • Education is essential to address the growing mismatch in skills and employment. Following current trends, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to the largest concentration of young people without the skills to participate productively in the workforce. Nearly nine in ten children in the region lack basic skills for the labour market
    Global Business Coalition for Education/Education Commission, 2019  World Bank, 2019
  • Education can provide the security and stability necessary for sustainable growth and development. The region is host to the greatest number of refugees in the world. The risk of conflict in the areas of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest education inequality is almost double that in other areas
    ISPI, 2020  Brookings, 2019  EFA GMR, 2013
  • Education can save lives in the region. More than 3.5 million child deaths could be prevented in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 if all mothers had a lower-secondary education.
    (UNESCO, 2013)
  • Education in sub-Saharan Africa is a smart business investment. By 2060, the populations of Africa’s two most populous nations, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, will have tripled and doubled, respectively. Companies investing in the education of emerging markets like these will not only create the skilled workforce needed to address the global talent gap, but also capture the economic benefit of the resulting newly empowered consumer base.
    (Brookings, 2013)
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Key talking points
  • Africa is the world’s youngest region and will account for 20% of the world’s workforce by 2050.
  • Only 7% of primary school students in sub-Saharan Africa master basic levels of reading.
  • Nearly 60% of young people aged 15 to 17 years are out of school in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • On current trends, by 2030, fewer than one in five young people in Africa will have basic secondary education literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Investment in education and opportunity is vital to Africa’s growth and future development.
  • Education is the key to unlocking the unprecedented cross-sectoral gains possible throughout the region, raising millions out of poverty and building the foundation for stable, sustained, and inclusive development.
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