Africa: Years of schooling do not equate to learning
While Africa celebrates an increase in the enrolment rate following the Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education policies, in many cases schools are continuing to fail the children they are supposed to serve by not imparting them with adequate knowledge to be successful.
Dr Lwanga Nanziri, Senior Lecturer in Development Finance at Stellenbosch Business School says that although the quantity of Africa’s human capital* has increased somewhat in the past two decades, the lack of access to education has been replaced by a crisis of learning quality.
“In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda about three-quarters of grade 3 students cannot read a simple sentence. Although children attend school for years, millions cannot read, write or do basic math, widening the social gaps instead of narrowing them, leaving young people already faced with poverty and violence, at a greater disadvantage.”
Sub-Saharan Africa scores the lowest of all the world’s regions on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index at 0.4, compared to a global average of 0.57.
“Under current conditions, children born in Sub-Saharan Africa today will be only 40% as productive as adults compared to how they would be if they had full access to quality education and health as defined by the index. This has a direct implication on Africa’s economy and the overall well-being of its people, leaving the continent even further behind in the global economy.” Dr Nanziri said.
“Although most Sub-Saharan African countries spend money on education, the impact of this expenditure is not equal to the education outcomes. For children to enter the job market as healthy, skilled, and productive adults, the quality of the learning they are receiving in the classroom must change drastically.”
She says that the number of years a child spends in school does not equate to learning the necessary skills and competencies.
A study conducted across 164 countries measuring Learning Adjusted Years of Schooling (LAYS) whereby each year of schooling is evaluated against a benchmark that represents the amount of learning that would have been acquired in a year in a high-performing schooling system, found that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the average child attains only the equivalent of 2 to 6 years of high-quality schooling compared to the standard of 10 to 12 years.
“The study found that children in Sub-Saharan Africa are only receiving about 60 percent of the learning that they should for each year that they spend in school. This gap reflects how Africa’s school system is failing our children and not delivering quality learning.”
“COVID-19 also exasperated the widening gap when most countries around the world offered education services via broadcast during the lockdown. In a sample study of Sub-Saharan African countries, less than 50% of households reported access to the content except for Kenya where over 75% of households gained access.”
Dr Nanziri suggests the following interventions:
- Improve teacher quality with structured educational programmes that would include books and materials, teachers’ guides, daily lesson plans, and teacher training, suffice to note that some of these interventions have been implemented individually. In this case, an additionality approach should be taken so hat new policies complement existing ones. This is also cost effective from a public finance management standpoint.
- Improving the quality of school management and inspectors. This is an old practice, but which has faded away in many countries. It should also not be limited to public schools given the surge of private education
- Invest in vocational training to create a more skilled and competitive workforce,
- Expand access to technology for digital resources and learning experiences for both the learners and the teachers.
Dr Nanziri says human capital is critical for inclusive growth and shared prosperity in Africa.
“Investment in human beings for improved social and economic outcomes in the future – through education and training, learning and experience– is vital in shaping future income and productivity. Developing human capital in Africa, therefore, requires a massive and coordinated effort to strengthen the quantity, efficiency, and impact of investments in people.”
*Human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that people invest in and accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to realise their potential as productive members of society.
 Angrist, Noam, David K. Evans, Deon Filmer, Rachel Glennerster, F. Halsey Rogers, and Shwetlena Sabarwal. "How to improve education outcomes most efficiently? A Comparison of 150 interventions using the new Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling metric." (2020).