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THE AFRICAN CONTEXT

A GROWING POPULATION

It is estimated that by the middle of this century, Africa will be home to 40% of the world's children and adolescents. The continent will be dominated by a substantial youth bulge, placing increasing pressure on the need and demand for education and training systems.  As sub-Saharan Africa already has the highest level of adolescents and youth out of lower or senior secondary school, this pressure will only increase. African countries need to ensure that there are educational opportunities available to young people, in order to ensure that they have the skills necessary to meet the needs of a modern world.

POOR LEARNING OUTCOMES

In general, gross metrics in educational outcomes for sub-Saharan countries have improved, albeit from a very low base, showing improved enrolment in and completion of primary school. Coupled with the region's high population growth rate, the increase in the primary completion has heightened pressure on African countries to expand secondary school coverage.

The concept of "Learning Poverty", first coined by the World Bank in 2019, refers to the inability to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. Estimates are that 87% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are "learning poor" in these terms. While there are significant disparities between countries in reading and Mathematics, in general learning outcomes are poor. For example, on average only 36% of children in the early grades achieve the minimum proficiency level in reading, and 47% in Mathematics. By the end of primary school, this has dropped to an average minimum proficiency level of 35% for reading, and 22% for Mathematics. For children who do not even reach these minimum levels, the chances of achieving any secondary school qualifications are slim, and provide near-impossible odds of accessing tertiary education. And although school completion rates vary greatly from country to country, in general they are low across Africa. On average, 65% of learners complete school at the primary level, with only 41% at lower secondary and a mere 23% at the upper secondary level. 

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Disruptions in learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated these learning deficits. Unless dramatic improvements are made, the goal of eliminating learning poverty by 2030 will not be met.

A SHORTAGE OF TEACHERS

There is a critical shortage of qualified teachers in Africa. According to UNESCO's Institute for Statistics (UIS), the continent will require 17 million teachers by 2030 to meet the SDG goal of universal primary and secondary education.  Over and above the shortage of teachers, administrative management and professional development of teachers is poor in many countries. This has negative implications for the quality and effectiveness of the education that learners receive. 

GROWTH IN THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY

While the vast majority of African students do not have access to a computer or the internet at home, the continent's remarkable growth in the use of mobile telephones has led to many innovative, Africa-specific solutions. It is the fast-growing mobile phone market in the world, with almost 81% of Africans owning a mobile phone, a 10% jump in the last eight years. It is estimated that by 2025, 75% of Africans in sub-Saharan Africa will have a smartphone, and the region will have a 50% mobile subscriber penetration rate. Total connections are actually much higher, and are predicted to reach 1 billion SIM connections by 2024.

In recent years, some African countries have been looking at the potential use of digital learning to complement traditional modes of learning delivery. This has involved creating national ICT policies and developing strategic partnerships with the private sector, in particular telecommunication companies, to lower the cost of access. Learning losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic gives impetus to the opportunities that digital technologies offer in transforming education delivery. 

Unicef's report entitled "Transforming Education in Africa" provides a detailed picture of the educational challenges on the African continent, with recommendations for long-term improvements. 

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