EDUCATION | A free and compulsory policy-making challenge for African governments

By Alison Culliford

Posted on January 31, 2019 08:31

Ghana and Sierra Leone (see page 48) are the latest African governments to expand the provision of free and compulsory state education, shining a light on problems of poor teacher training, the lack of classrooms and the need for school feeding programmes.

According to UNESCO, in sub-Saharan Africa one-fifth of children between six and 11 are out of school, one-third between 12 and 14, and 60% between 15 and 17. Though the reasons are various, ranging from conflict to corruption to lack of provision, poverty is now identified as an overwhelming factor.

Free high school education was an election pledge for Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo. Launching the policy in 2017, he said the programme would cost less than the price the country would pay for having an unskilled and uneducated workforce. Akufo-Addo has already got 472,000 new entrants into high schools through his ‘double-intake’ system but faces criticism that the country wasn’t ready and can’t afford it.

Debates in most African countries have moved beyond whether public schools need strengthening to how to fund it. Economist Ernest Areetey, a former chancellor of the University of Ghana, says free education will cost the country ¢3.3bn ($683,000) in the next academic year, not including teachers’ salaries – almost triple the ¢1.3bn allocated in the budget. Countries lagging behind in educational performance are watching with keen interest to see if Ghana and Sierra Leone can pull things off in 2019.

This article first appeared in December-January 2019 print edition of The Africa Report

Photo: In Nigeria fear of terrorist attacks is one of many threats to education
Credits: HANNIBAL/dpa/AFP

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