Although they might not believe it at the time, the best present that any boy or girl could ever wish for is EDUCATION.
For most children there will be no better gift in their entire lives than having the chance to go to school to learn to read and write and to count and calculate. These are the essential elements in laying the foundations for acquiring the skills and knowledge which should provide every child with a passport to a lifetime of opportunities. And in our modern world the continuing success of any country and its people depends on the ability and training of its youngsters.
In advanced countries education is often taken for granted and is usually provided free by the state up to the age of 18 and sometimes beyond. However, in most parts of the developing world children are seldom so lucky. According to an UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report released in October, 2015, at least 74 countries have an acute teacher shortage adding that some 2,700,000 teachers would have to be recruited, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, in order to achieve universal primary education. Of this total 1.4 million are needed to replace teachers leaving the workplace, while the remaining 1.3 million are needed to expand access to primary education and underwrite quality by ensuring that there are not more than 40 students for every teacher.
Nevertheless across the developing world primary school enrolment is rising slowly and currently stands at 91%. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, primary school enrolment is lower at 77% (1990 53%). The worst country to be a child is in South Sudan, where civil war often continues to smoulder. There fewer than 40% of children attend school and where, since the war broke out, more than 800 schools have been demolished and more than 40,000 children have had to abandon their classrooms. Next comes Niger with 53% of kids in school followed by Burkino Faso with 58% and Sudan with 59%. In Nigeria, in recent years, numbers in primary education have fallen meaning that one in five of the world's out-of-school children are Nigerian. In Zimbabwe, free education ended in 1990 and parents had to then pay school fees. And with drought, high inflation and unemployment school numbers are again on the decline. On the other hand, there are a few bright spots, with Botswana, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Uganda, Rwanda and Sao Tome/Principe confirmed as having 100% of kids in primary education at the end of 2017. Meanwhile in Tanzania 94% and in Ethiopia 87% of primary age children are now at school. (From January 2016 all charges for primary schooling were lifted in Tanzania when it became compulsory for all kids to attend school.)
Although figures are rising for primary school attendance in sub-Saharan it doesn't necessarily imply progress everywhere for it is reckoned that only 46% of boys and 36% of girls go on to complete primary school. In South Sudan only 10% of pupils finish primary school education and in Uganda only 30%. Figures are higher though for Rwanda with 74%, Tanzania with 81% and Kenya with 84%.
At the same time, more than half the teachers in the following countries are untrained:- Angola, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Niger, Senegal and South Sudan. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, only 64% of primary and 50% of secondary school teachers were trained compared to 71% and 79% respectively in 2005. The decline is due to the rising demand for education. If these figures are shocking then so is the fact that according to UNESCO, 40% of all young people there are unable to read a single sentence. This in a continent that is crying out for talent and expertise to help their countries progress. But even when the talent is there sadly 1 in 9 African graduates leaves to find work in the developed world which is disastrous for trying to move the continent forward. (In Guyana, in South America, it is estimated that 95% of successful graduates emigrate to either US or Canada - an horrendous waste of talent the country can ill-afford.)
Overall UNESCO has calculated that in 2018, 59m children (1990 105m) of primary school age were out of school world wide and almost half of those (32.6m) were in sub-Saharan Africa where Nigeria, because of its size, boasts the greatest number of kids out of school in the world with 10.5m. In this sub-continent more than half the kids are not in school in South Sudan, Liberia, Eritrea, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and increasingly in the Sahel where armed fighters continue their struggle against authority. At the same time UNESCO estimates that worldwide 264m children are not learning to read, write or count, whether they are in school or not, because their education is of such poor quality. This means that the world wastes US$129bn on poor education that fails to give children even the basic skills they need.
In sub-Saharan Africa the main reasons for children being out of school are :-
a) there may not be a school within walking distance,
b) there may not be enough teachers to teach all of the children,
c) parents may be unable to afford to pay school fees or to meet the cost of food, scholastic materials and uniforms. The UN estimates that these costs can consume, on average, 25% of poor families' household budgets.
d) the family may be so poor that they need their children to help on their plot of land.
e) and in a kind of selection process it may be that only one or two children will attend school from a family or perhaps just the boys. And this latter problem has consequences for future family life as World Bank research has demonstrated that education increases the likelihood of women choosing to have smaller, healthier families and deciding to send their own children to school.
Another problem is class sizes. We in the rich world may baulk at the idea of more than 30 pupils in a class but in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa the pupil/teacher ratio is absurd at more than double that figure :- in Central African Republic it is 80:1, in Malawi 69:1, in Chad 62:1, in Mozambique 55:1, in Guinea-Bissau 52:1 and in South Sudan 50:1. Imagine having to control a class of 80 kids! Conversely in Mauritius there are 22 children per primary school teacher.
But even if you are one of the luckier ones in Africa and have a school to go to other challenges can present themselves:-
a) the classroom
may well be under a tree as the local community cannot afford to build
a school. Inevitably then, when it rains, lessons stop and on really wet
days pupils do not even turn up.
b) in many schools there are no desks leaving kids to sit on bricks trying to read outdated and worn out textbooks. And as there is no electricity, the internet is no substitute.
c) double shifts are sometimes needed to accommodate all the pupils putting tremendous pressure on teachers.
d) teachers are in short supply and often training is inadequate. In some sub-Saharan African countries - Angola, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and South Sudan - fewer than 50% of primary school teachers are trained to national standards. Education also suffers by too many teachers being paid months in arrears forcing them to go 'part time' as they seek alternative ways of paying their bills. It is not uncommon in some areas, for one teacher to be left in charge of an entire school whilst all the other teachers do second jobs!
e) HIV/AIDS has caused huge damage to the education system in many countries with teachers falling ill. In fact in many poor countries like Malawi and Zambia, AIDS was killing teachers faster than they could be replaced. Many children, too, are missing school because they have to look after parents or other relatives who are dying.
So far we have only dealt with primary schools but as children get older their chances of going on to secondary school are even smaller. All in all, in sub-Saharan Africa, more children of secondary school age attend primary school than secondary school and only 20% of children of secondary school age gain secondary education. As for university education that is for those families with money or those lucky enough to obtain a bursary. Only 3% of African children go on to attend university.
This lack of educational opportunity is reflected in the fact that in the developing world today, according to UNESCO, there are 775m adults who are illiterate, 2/3rds of them women. Today, in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half the adult population of the following 9 countries can neither read nor write. In Niger and Burkina Faso the literacy rate is only 29%, in Mali 31%, in Chad 34%, in Ethiopia 39%, in Guinea 41%, in Benin and Sierra Leone 42% and in Senegal 49%.
If poor countries are going to start to advance education has to be at the very heart of development but too many governments are failing to seriously invest in their children's education. Currently, it seems, according to UNESCO, in 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa more than 50% of the money spent on education is wasted because of poor schooling. In Nigeria, for example, according to Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute, 'the quality of education is woeful. Half of the children who get through 6 years of primary schooling emerge unable to read a simple sentence or add 2 digit numbers. There's a good reason for these outcomes. Most of Nigeria's teachers are unable to pass primary school exit tests. And in October 2017, the state governor of Kaduna sacked 21,780 teachers, 2/3rds of the total, because they had failed to to score 75% or more in an examination paper for their 6 year old pupils. Add to this a chronic shortage of text books and you get a recipe for schooling without learning.' And this is 2020!
At the World Education Forum held in Dakar in Senegal in 2000, 180 countries made a commitment to the effect that no country seriously committed to primary education for every child should be thwarted by lack of funds. This strong commitment made by some of the world's richest governments should have been a tremendous incentive for countries to act. The same theme of Universal Primary Education (UPE) was further boosted by the United Nations at the Millennium Summit in 2000 by its inclusion as one of several UN Millennium Development Goals to be reached by the end of 2015. Moreover, this was further underlined again in the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 with Goal 4 aiming to 'ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.' And limited progress is being made here for developing countries now spend, on average, 3.8% of their budgets on education compared to 2.9% in 1999. Despite recent successes, though, with 30m children still out of primary school a recent report by Social Watch, a think tank, on present trends, it will take sub-Saharan Africa until almost the end of the 21st century to achieve universal primary education (UPE).
So for UPE
to succeed in all areas of the developing world it is going to need money
and commitment from both rich and poor countries. And in financial terms
alone it is now estimated that US$16bn, a significant increase over previous
estimates, will need to be found annually for investment in schools, books,
materials and teachers. So two questions 1) where will this money come
from and 2) will all parents send their children to school anyway?
2) In a study carried out by the World Food Programme in West Africa it was found that introducing school meals* more than doubled school enrolment whilst at the same time led to a 40% improvement in academic results. This is perhaps not surprising as many children in Africa eat less than the bare minimum. If going to school means that children get at least one good meal every day it can only help their development whilst at the same time leaving more food available for the rest of the family. And at an annual cost of US$18 (£13) for each pupil this looks like a bargain.
*Mary's Meals, a charity based in Dalmally in Scotland, serves more than a million meals a day to school children worldwide including to over 25% of primary-school children in Malawi. see www.marysmeals.org.uk
Today, success in the global economy is even more closely linked to the skill of the workforce than ever before so it is essential that children everywhere are given the foundations of an education that will allow them to grasp these opportunities. And we cannot afford to fail them! For no education means children not just being unable to use their minds to full advantage - with so much time on their hands it often leads youngsters into crime, drugs, violence and prostitution which ultimately lead to prison and escalating social problems.
In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report by OECD in May 2019, based on test scores in maths, science and reading attained by 15 year olds in 70 countries across the globe, Singapore came out top. In second place was Hong Kong followed by Japan and Macau. Top European country, in 5th place, was Estonia followed by Canada, Taiwan and Finland and South Korea. In 10th place was China followed by Ireland and Slovenia. Germany and The Netherlands occupy 13th place. The UK came in 23rd and the US 31st. Occupying the bottom 5 positions were Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Algeria, Macedonia and Tunisia. Shockingly, even in the UK, it was found that 1 in 5 youngsters leave school without a basic level of education.
so many things in sub-Saharan Africa too often things are not what they
seem. In a 2012 report, independently commissioned by the Ugandan government,
it was found that there was gross mismanagement in many aspects of education:-
Still a very long way to go then and much still to learn!
(The 2020 QS World University Rankings shows Oxford University as the globe's No1 teaching institution coming out on top in 8 out of 48 subjects assessed including anthropology and pharmacology. 13 of the 48 disciplines are topped by a UK university although none by Cambridge. However, Cambridge featured in the top ten in 38 subjects, more than any other university. The US remains dominant in tertiary education coming out on top in 30 subjects. Harvard was ranked the best in 11 dsiciplines including economics, law and medicine whilst the Massachusetts Institutue of Technology came first in 12 subjects including chemistry, physics and maths.)