Quality must match quantity in Africa’s education output

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There have been substantial gains in achieving universal education with net enrollment reaching 90% in developing countries and 77% in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, as the United Nations states in a 2013 report.

On the down side, however, this increase in enrollment has not been accompanied by an increase in quality output.

This was discussed in detail at the 2014 African Economic Conference, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where participants listened to research findings from scholars who dedicated their time to developing solutions to this impasse.

By investigating the role of education in economic growth in developing countries, a South African Researcher, Esther Mumbi Kinamu, argued that most students, who completed nine years of schooling in Africa, have skills below the international level.

“They simply cannot compete with their peers from the developed world at that level,” she said, adding that: “For the type of primary education offered to be of significant value, research finds that it should not entirely be theoretical but at least impart some basic skills.”

Quoting works by renowned education researcher, Eric A. Hanushek, Kinamu added that since public provision of basic education has mainly been a prerogative of governments, a continued increase in public expenditure on education infrastructure is inevitable.

“Our findings considered neighbourhood characteristics such as access to piped water, toilet facilities and communication facilities, most of which is the work of government. Increased expenditure per pupil also has a significant effect on the quality of a child’s education,” she said.

In her research titled “The effects of pupil-teacher ratio and expenditure per pupil on education attainment in South Africa”, Kinamu suggested that a low pupil-teacher ratio has a higher influence on the quality of education in lower grades, while also proposing “home-parenting” as a crucial ingredient that is usually taken for granted.

“Family characteristics are important determinants of educational attainment. Our results show that having a parent with at least some secondary education increases the likelihood of attaining a higher level of education, compared to having a parent with no formal education,” she said.

Another researcher, Jennifer Okwonkwo, whose work focused on “Education reforms in Francophone West African countries”, deliberated that education in Africa should be redirected from equipping students with notions of having “a good life”, to important areas like eliminating poverty, improving health and reducing illiteracy.

“Many African countries have carried out reforms in their education systems, however, the quality of education in Africa remains strikingly low,” she said.

“While some argue that there is no relationship between funding and reform outcomes, others conclude that increase in per-pupil expenditure has a significant positive impact on reform achievement. Our research finds that increased funding in education is very crucial, but its impact depends highly on how it is used.”

Nevertheless, most countries are on track to meet their primary education enrollment, according to the 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report, produced by the African Development Bank, in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union and United Nations Development Program.

The report indicates that 25 countries have achieved net enrollment ratios of 80% or above and only 11 have enrollment rates below 75%.

However, it supports the research papers presented at the Africa Economic Conference, stating that low quality education remains a major challenge despite high enrollment rates.