Democratic Dividend: The Road to Quality Education in Africa

Education is a powerful tool to fight poverty, enable upward socioeconomic mobility, and empower people to live healthier lives. But while the global adult literacy rate continues to increase, from 81% in 2000 to 86% in 2018 (World Bank, 2019), the challenge of access to quality education remains particularly severe in Africa. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, globally one out of five children aged 6-17 years were not in school; more than half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, many African pupils attend schools that are inadequately equipped, creating a difficult learning environment. For example, more than half of the schools in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to basic drinking water, handwashing facilities, the Internet, or computers (United Nations, 2019). COVID-19 may exacerbate these challenges as pupils lose school time, unequal access to online learning heightens inequalities, and health care and social-safety costs and economic losses put pressure on limited resources. Africans are aware of education challenges. Across 34 African countries surveyed by Afrobarometer between late 2016 and late 2018, one in five respondents (21%) cited education as one of the most important problems their governments should address, placing it among citizens’ top five priorities (Coulibaly, Silwé, & Logan, 2018). Not surprisingly, younger people placed substantially greater emphasis on education than their elders. Overall, just a slim majority of Africans think their government is doing a good job on meeting educational needs. Factors that contribute to these evaluations include whether citizens find it easy to obtain school services and whether they think schools are transparent about their budgets and responsive to reports of teacher misconduct.