Free but Not Efficient – Education in Central Africa

Victoria Akindele
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Education in most Central African countries is lawfully free but not potent and efficient. Hence, factors such as leadership, vision and professionalism and development that contribute to high quality education are lacking or ineffective. These conditions will only continue to exacerbate the education and learning gaps between school children in these regions and other education ware countries. And in turn, poor quality education in these areas will only continue to perpetuate long-term poverty in the region.

Central Africa is the core region of the African continent. Otherwise called ‘Middle Africa’, which is an analogous term that includes; Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Burundi, São Tomé and Príncipe.

Education in Angola is compulsory and free for eight years yet the government reports that a percentage of pupils are not attending due to a lack of school buildings and teachers. Pupils are often responsible for paying additional school-related expenses, including fees for books and supplies.

In 2010, the Angolan government started building the Angolan Media Libraries Network, distributed throughout several provinces in the country to facilitate the people’s access to information and knowledge. Each site has a bibliographic archive, multimedia resources and computers with Internet access, as well as areas for reading, researching and socialising. The plan envisages the establishment of one media library in each Angolan province. The project also includes the implementation of several media libraries, in order to provide the several contents available in the fixed media libraries to the most isolated populations in the country.

As of today, the mobile media libraries are already operating in the provinces of Luanda, Malanje, Uíge, Cabinda and Lunda South. So also the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Lubango and Soyo have currently working media libraries.

In Cameron, most children have access to state-run schools that are cheaper than private and religious facilities. The educational system is a mixture of British and French precedents with most instruction in English or French.

Cameroon has one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa. Although, girls attend school less regularly than boys do because of cultural attitudes, domestic duties, early marriage, pregnancy, and sexual harassment. Attendance rates are higher in the south since a disproportionate number of teachers are stationed there, leaving northern schools chronically understaffed.

School attendance in Cameroon is also affected by child labour. The U.S. Department of Labour Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour reported that 56% of children aged 5 to 14 are working children and that almost 53% of children aged 7 to 14 combine work and school.

The Education Policy and Data Centre, EPDC, states that in principle, education in Gabon is free and compulsory for primary and lower secondary.

With a primary language of French also, the Gabonese hold one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The system for education in Gabon breeds this by having an adult literacy program provided by the government. Records show that a high percent of adults are literate, with an annual growth rate of 5 percent.

Also, public education in the Central African Republic is free and is compulsory from ages 6 to 14. However, approximately half of the adult population of the country is illiterate.

Only about half of school-age children are enrolled in primary schools, apparently because of poverty, violence resulting from continued fighting between government forces and the rebels, and the lack of teachers and educational facilities and materials.

In addition, there have been 81 reported cases of attacks on the education system since 2017. Qualified teachers fleeing the fighting in rural areas are often replaced by poorly qualified or unqualified parent-teachers, with public primary schools counting 61% of parent-teachers.

A 2015-2017 Transitional Plan was designed to drive a gradual return to normal school activities, for primary education especially, and smooth sector operations to enable the resumption of the development path.

The country has decided to extend the Transitional Plan to 2018 and 2019. This extension is to enable the sustainability of achievements.

In Chad, educators face considerable challenges due to the nation’s dispersed population and a certain degree of reluctance on the part of parents to send their children to school. Although attendance is compulsory, only 68 percent of boys attend primary school, and more than half of the population is illiterate.

The U.S. Department of Labour’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Chad also reports that school attendance of children aged 5 to 14 is low. This can also be related to the issue of child labour as it is said that children aged 5 to 14 are working children, and some others combine work and school. Cattle herding as a major agricultural activity that employs underage children. At 33 percent, Chad has one of the lowest literacy rates of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) education system is plagued by low coverage and poor quality. 3.5 million children of primary school age are not in school, and of those who do attend, 44 percent start school late, after the age of six. National data indicate that only 67 percent of children who enter first grade will complete sixth grade. Of those who reach 6th grade, only 75 percent passes the exit exam.

The government of Burundi has identified education as a core focus of its long-term development vision. The current education sector plan, Programme sectoriel de développement de l’éducation et de la formation (PSDEF) covers the years 2012-2020 and sets out to “achieve universal primary education and to educate the majority of youth until they reach an age where they can find their place in society.”

To achieve this vision, the government of Burundi has laid out some priorities to decongest schools and increase fluidity between education levels through classroom construction, reduction of repetition rates, reduction of double-shift classrooms so as to increase actual learning time, reform of the secondary school cycle to introduce a nine year basic education cycle and encourage secondary school enrolment after six years of primary.

Also to strengthen sector-management through accelerated decentralization, improvement in financial management, human resource management, pedagogical supervision, data collection, better construction planning and management.

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Other middle African countries can and should follow suit or set out some strategies to improving access to education even though for most of them, education is ‘lawfully’ free.

But in addition to improving access to education, there is an urgent need to improve the relevance and quality of the education that children receive.

Education has been a huge global success and can be transformative but quality is a must if we want to build a better future for the next generation.  And this lies at the heart of social and economic development.

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