The situation in developing countries

Class room in a new school building in Faisabad, Afghanistan, that was funded by German development cooperation.

Early childhood lays the foundation for the success or otherwise of future learning. But one in four children under the age of five in the world suffers from malnutrition. These children often suffer developmental disorders, which in turn diminish their chances of a good education. In addition, one half of children of preschool age do not go to kindergarten or similar establishment; in sub-Saharan countries fewer than one in five children have the advantage of early education.

Around the world, some 57 million children of primary school age do not attend school. More than half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 20 per cent in South and West Asia. Fifty-four per cent of the children who do not attend school are girls.

Many boys and girls enrolled in school drop out early. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 56 per cent of children complete a full primary school education. In 2010, 69 million young people of secondary school age (10 to 16 years) did not attend secondary school. Some 774 million young people (over 15 years of age) and adults cannot read or write, and almost two thirds of these are women.

For socially disadvantaged groups access to education is especially difficult. Apart from girls and women and poor people, these groups include indigenous peoples, religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities and people with disabilities. People living in conflict regions are also at a severe disadvantage.

Education goals are not achieved

In 2000, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, the international community adopted the Education for All Global Action Plan. 2015 was set as the target date for achieving the goals, the same date as for the Millennium Development Goals launched in the same year. Notwithstanding the substantial progress made in some countries, the global forecast in the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/14 is not rosy: "With the deadline for the Education for All goals less than two years away, it is clear that, despite advances over the past decade, not a single goal will be achieved globally by 2015."

If the current trend continues, the goal of universal primary education, for example, will not be achieved. Although the number of children of primary school age not attending school declined between 1999 and 2011 from 108 million to 57 million – a huge step forward – the pace of progress has become extremely slow, indeed hardly any progress at all was made between 2008 and 2011. According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the shortfall in funding to achieve good quality basic education for all by 2015 has reached 26 billion US dollar annually.

Cost of school attendance

Girl at a school in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic

Many people in developing countries cannot afford the cost of school fees, books, other learning materials, school uniforms or transport to school. As a result, their children do not go to school or they drop out. In countries in which school fees have been abolished, enrolment rates have risen markedly.

Numerous families rely on the income their children contribute. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that some 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 years have to work, so there is often no time left to attend school.

Budget shortfalls

Universal compulsory education remains elusive in many countries because the necessary financial resources are not available. In most developing countries, education budgets fall short of requirements. High national deficits are a further constraint. According to the Global Monitoring Report, the world's governments spend, on average, 5.1 per cent of gross national income (GNI) on education. In the United States and Western Europe that figure is 6.2 per cent. While some states' investment in education is even in excess of 8 per cent of GNI, some developing countries barely achieve 3 per cent (as of 2011).

If the education system is to keep pace with the rapid growth in the number of school-age children in many – though not all – developing countries, investment will have to be substantially higher. Certainly the poorest developing countries will not be able to raise that money themselves. Bad governance, high staff turnover, corruption and a shortage of organisational and managerial skills are other obstacles to the universal provision of quality education.

Poor quality teaching

The quality of teaching is poor in many developing countries. Even children who have completed primary school may lack basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. The curricula often lack clear targets, are overloaded with subjects, do not meet the learning needs of elementary school pupils, ignore cultural and regional factors, and put across distorted or stereotypical images of male and female social roles.

Other frequently encountered problems are a failure to bring teaching times and curricula into line with the everyday lives of children, and outdated teaching methods. Group work, independent learning, critical thought and problem solving, the use of new technologies and the development of life skills tend to be neglected. As a result, young people lack the crucial knowledge and skills that will later give them the confidence to make their way in the labour market.

Lack of schools and teaching staff

Class room at a school in Tienfala in Mali. There are only two desks and an old locker.

Not just rural regions, but many poor urban districts too lack a comprehensive network of primary schools. Children in rural regions may have to walk very long distances to school. Many girls are not allowed to attend schools at some distance away because their parents are concerned about their safety.

Teachers' working conditions in developing countries are frequently unacceptable: many teachers have to teach two or three shifts a day, with large classes and on poor pay. Many schools are poorly equipped and have no funding to cover overheads such as water, electricity or transport for the children.

Teachers may also be poorly trained and insufficiently prepared for their work. The low esteem in which the profession is held and the remote location of many schools do not make teaching an attractive profession.

To achieve the goal of universal primary education for all, several million primary school teachers would have to be taken on by 2015; 1.6 million new posts would have to be created; and 3.7 million posts would have to be newly filled because teachers are leaving the profession.

Lack of post-primary education

Increasing school enrolment rates and the rising numbers of children completing primary school education in the developing countries is giving rise to the need to create opportunities for post-primary education and vocational training. The opportunities available are still not adequate. In many cases they are not geared to the requirements of the economy, nor do they meet the needs of young people.

Vocational training systems are rudimentary in many countries. The teaching is usually too theoretical and not in line with the needs of the labour market. Universities and colleges in developing countries are ill equipped materially and financially and few of them are able to carry out their teaching and research remit adequately.


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