United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Education in Africa: ministers meet to assess progress

Paris - African education ministers from across the continent will meet in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) from December 2 to 6 to assess progress in the quest to bring quality education to all.

This eighth meeting of the conference known as MINEDAF, will be held under the theme of "Taking up the Challenges of Education in Africa: From Commitments to Action." It is organized by UNESCO, in cooperation with the host country, and the African Union, and is also supported by the World Bank and UNICEF.

"MINEDAF VIII is a golden opportunity for Africa's educational leaders collectively to take the decisive step from commitment to action," says UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. "Ranging from poor quality and the impact of HIV/AIDS to teacher shortages and under-funding, the challenges facing education in Africa are truly daunting. There are, however, new opportunities to address these challenges with renewed vigour and enhanced support. These opportunities must be seized for the sake of all African children. Their education, after all, is Africa's future."

Africa has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world (2.6%). Poverty, war and civil conflict, which have shaken 17 of Africa's 53 countries over the past decade, external debt and the AIDS pandemic are seriously compounding the difficulties faced by education systems already suffering from the lack of qualified staff and material resources.

According to a report prepared for MINEDAF VIII*, primary education, which is at the heart of basic education, is accessible to only half of the continent's school-age children. And only half of them complete the full primary cycle of studies. In 2002, claims the report, 16 countries have achieved or are about to achieve universal primary education (Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Egypt, Gabon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe). Another 16 have a gross enrolment ratio of between 70% and 98%. However, in 15 others this ratio is only between 31% and 67%. These countries (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Tanzania) will be especially hard pressed to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

According to the British NGO, Oxfam, annual spending will have to increase by US$3.6 billion to put sub-Saharan Africa on the road to education for all in 2015. This presupposes a significant increase in regional spending, and a sevenfold boost in external aid. The World Bank estimates only 3% of the education budget in developing countries today comes from the international community.

In half of all African countries, enrolment in secondary education has reached the minimum threshold of 20%. But some 20 other countries are below that rate, with some at less than 10%. Problems of access, equity, structure, quality and adaptation to the cultural context present so many difficulties in some areas that the very nature of secondary education is put into question, suggests the Minedaf report.

Limited access and high cost are characteristic of higher education in Africa. With the exception of Sao Tome and Principe and the Seychelles, all African countries have at least one university. But in 30 nations the median enrolment rate does not exceed 2%. It should be noted, however, that between 1980 and 1995, the number of male students multiplied by 3.4 while the number of female students multiplied by 5.4.

One of the major challenges facing education in Africa is quality. In 23 countries for which statistics are available, 15% of pupils on average have to repeat a year. This is mainly due to an insufficient number of qualified teachers (in some countries, the percentage of teachers in secondary education without qualifications is as high as 55%) and to poor working conditions. In higher education however, there have been some encouraging experiences, such as distance learning programmes in South Africa, at Dar-es-Salaam University and in the creation of the Open University in Nigeria.

The AIDS pandemic is also wreaking havoc on education systems throughout the continent. According to the most recent report of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), ten million 15 to 24 year-olds and nearly three million children are currently living with the virus in Africa. AIDS has already orphaned 11 million children there and is decimating the ranks of teachers. It affects every sector of education, whether it be administrators, civil servants or inspectors.

High on the meeting's agenda will be the 2002 Education for All Global Monitoring Report**, published by UNESCO, which concludes that only about half of African nations will achieve universal primary education by 2015, a deadline set at the World Education Forum in Dakar (Senegal, 2000).

These conclusions have fuelled lively debate on the continent. A number of observers pointing out that the data on which the report bases its conclusions pre-dates the Dakar Forum, and does not, therefore, take recent progress into account. Participants at the recent High Level Group Meeting on Education for All (Nigeria, November 12-13), including several African ministers, nonetheless acknowledged that given the many and complex obstacles faced by African nations, special efforts will be needed in many countries.

All of these issues will be debated during the Dar es Salaam Conference, which is organized around seven discussion panels, each one dedicated to a different aspect of education. Several special sessions will deal with wider issues such as AIDS, emergency, conflict or post-conflict situations, the use of new information and communication technologies, multi-lingualism, micro-science and the involvement of civil society.

*See the full report and other documents prepared for the meeting at the MINEDAF VIII portal on UNESCO's website

** The 2002 Education for All Global Monitoring Report is available in PDF format

Contact: Jasmina Sopova
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
E-mail: j.sopova@unesco.org
In Dar-es-Salaam: (+255) 22 211 24 16
Mobile: +255 (0)7 44 61 30 74

Sue Williams, Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
E-mail: s.williams@unesco.org
In Dar-es-Salaam: (+255) 22 211 24 16
Mobile: +255 (0)7 44 61 30 74

Source Press Release No.2002-95
Generic Field
Spanish | Arabic
Publication Date 28 Nov 2002
© UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 7888