Education in Developing Countries

Slum classroom in Mathare Valley, Kenya (c) bpaAround the world, some 75 million children – more than half of them girls – have no opportunity to attend primary school. One in three children in Africa that are enrolled in school drop out of primary education. For socially disadvantaged groups such as rural or indigenous communities, poor urban dwellers, AIDS orphans or the disabled, access to education is especially difficult. Four out of five children who do not go to school live in rural regions.

In many countries, traditional role patterns stop parents enrolling girls in school. The stronger the cultural preference for boys in a particular country or region, the greater the gender disparities in the educational sector, for instance in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and in South and West Asia.

In addition, many children are prevented from going to school on account of crises and wars. The majority of people who are forced to flee armed conflicts are women and children. In many countries where civil war is raging, the majority of schools have been destroyed.

Inadequate budgets

In most developing countries, the budgets allocated for primary education are too low to meet requirements and to achieve the goal of universal compulsory school attendance. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), developing countries spend an average of 4.4 per cent of their national income on education. The United States and countries in western Europe invest 5.5 per cent on average, some countries even invest more than 8 per cent on education. In the period between 1999 and 2006, 40 countries reduced their education expenditure – and that figure does not even include many countries that did not supply statistics.

If the primary school system is to keep pace with the growth in the number of school-age children, which is still strong, considerably more money will have to be invested – and the least developed countries (LDCs) at any rate do not have the necessary resources at their disposal. Bad governance, high staff turnover, inefficient use of funding, corruption and lack of management and organisational skills are other obstacles to the universal provision of education.

Lack of schools and teaching staff

Rural regions in particular but also poor urban districts often lack a comprehensive primary school network. Children in rural regions often have to walk extremely long distances to school. Many girls are not allowed to attend schools some distance away as parents are concerned about their safety.

Many schools are poorly equipped. They lack textbooks and teaching materials, and when these are available, they are often as outdated as the furnishings. Many schools have no funding to cover overheads such as water, electricity or transport for pupils.

Teachers' working conditions are unacceptable in many developing countries: many teachers have to teach two or three shifts a day – in classes with very high student numbers and on poor pay. Many teachers are also poorly trained and ill-prepared for what awaits them in schools. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa also face a health problem: in some regions so many teachers have contracted AIDS that schools are forced to remain closed.

Many developing countries face the problem of low-quality teaching. The curricula are overloaded with subjects and do not meet the learning needs of the children, and convey distorted or stereotypical images of female and male social role models. Too little account is taken of cultural and regional factors. Teaching times and curricula are too little geared to the children's actual day-to-day reality. Group work, independent learning, critical thought and problem-solving, the use of new technologies and the promotion of life skills are not sufficiently promoted.

Costs of attending school

Many people in developing countries cannot afford to pay school fees or for learning materials, school uniforms and transport to school. In countries in which school fees have been abolished enrolment rates have risen markedly.

Numerous families rely on the income their children contribute. According to estimates done by the International Labour Organization (ILO), some 166 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years have to work – often up to 16 hours a day. One in four children in sub-Saharan Africa and one in five children in Asia have to work.

High illiteracy rates

Based on estimates, the lack of access to, and often poor quality of, the education systems in developing countries means that some 30 to 50 per cent of those who leave school after four to six years of primary education are neither literate nor numerate. Around 11 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are classed as illiterate. Worldwide, around 776 million adults and young people over the age of 15 cannot read or write – just under two thirds of them women.

Between 1970 and 2006, illiteracy rates dropped from 37 to 16 per cent worldwide, but on account of population growth the absolute number of those who cannot read or write has continued to rise in many regions. Ninety-eight per cent of those who cannot read or write live in developing countries.

Failing vocational training and higher education systems

Sustainable economic development is not possible without qualified experts. But most developing countries lack well-trained specialists. Many countries only have a rudimentary vocational training system, or one that is not integrated into the education and employment system. The courses are usually too theoretical and not geared to the needs of the labour market.

Universities and colleges in developing countries are poorly equipped and lack the necessary funding. Only few are able to sufficiently fulfil their research and teaching responsibilities. However, universities and colleges are important for the entire educational system, when it comes to training specialists and managers, and for tackling development-related tasks at private-sector, government and social level.


BMZ glossary

Close window