Education in developing countries

Children in a school in Bangui, Central African Republic

When it comes to achieving equitable access to quality education, the world’s poorest countries lag far behind. According to the 2017 Global Education Monitoring Report, some 61 million children of primary school age do not have the chance to go to school. More than 32 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and almost eleven million in South Asia. Fifty-three per cent of the children who do not attend school are girls. The disadvantaged population groups also include indigenous peoples, religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities and people living in conflict regions.

Many boys and girls are enrolled in school but drop out of primary school early. The situation is particularly dramatic in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 59 per cent of children there complete their primary school education. There are also deficits with regard to the quality of teaching. According to UNESCO estimates, more than 50 per cent of primary school pupils worldwide and more than 60 per cent of young people in lower secondary schools are not even able to read at a basic level.

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, in 2015 there were 62 million young people who did not go on to a secondary school after they finished primary school. More than 140 million young people and young adults did not have the possibility to take the school-leaving examination qualifying them to enter higher education or to graduate from school as the first step towards being qualified for work. Some 750 million young people (over 15 years of age) and adults cannot read or write, and almost two thirds of them are women.

Education goals: Looking back and looking ahead

Student in a school for girls in Irbid, Jordan

In 2000, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, the international community adopted the Education for All global (EFA) action plan. 2015 was set as the target date for achieving these goals, the same date as for the Millennium Development Goals launched in the same year. Despite the substantial progress made in some countries, the overall result was poor. None of the EFA targets was achieved by 2015. Even the fundamental target of ensuring that all children worldwide attend and complete primary school was missed.

Nevertheless, the Education for All movement was generally acclaimed as a success in the 2015 Global Education Monitoring Report. An important lesson learnt from these 15 years is that, although technical solutions for promoting education are valuable, political drive is essential. Without the political will to implement a significant number of reforms, the objective of providing Education for All cannot be achieved at the national level.

The international community is now facing the same challenges with regard to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in late 2015. Whereas the EFA goals and the MDGs put the focus on access to education with mainly quantitative targets, the 2030 Agenda has education quality as an additional priority.

Poor educational prospects for displaced children

Children in a refugee camp in the Region Kurdistan-Iraq

Crises and conflicts prevent many children from going to school. The majority of those forced to flee their homes because of violent conflicts are women and children. In addition, in many of the countries where civil wars are raging, schools have been destroyed.

A study published by the UN Refugee Agency in autumn 2016 showed that only 50 per cent of displaced children of primary school age were able to attend school. The global average for primary school attendance is 91 per cent. The older such children are, the fewer their educational opportunities. Only 22 per cent of displaced young people have access to a secondary school (global average: 84 per cent). And while an average of 34 per cent of all people worldwide have the opportunity to study at institutions of higher education, the figure for displaced people is just one per cent.

Cost as a barrier to attending school

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

Many people in developing countries cannot find the money to pay for school fees, books and other learning materials, school uniforms or transport to school. As a result, their children do not go to school or they drop out. Girls are particularly often the ones who lose out.

In countries where school fees have been abolished, enrolment rates have risen markedly.

Furthermore, numerous families rely on the income their children contribute. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that some 152 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 years have to work, so they often have no time left for school.

Inadequate budgets, little support

Empty classroom in Sokodé, Togo

In most developing countries, education budgets fall short of requirements. High levels of public debt, poor governance, corruption and a lack of organisational and managerial skills are further obstacles hampering the universal provision of quality education.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has calculated that the annual costs for providing universal pre-school, primary and secondary education in developing countries and emerging economies will rise from 149 billion US dollars in 2012 to an estimated 340 billion US dollars in the years between 2015 and 2030. National governments are therefore called upon to increase their revenues and invest more money in education. By way of indication, at least four to six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) or 15 to 20 per cent of the national budget should be earmarked for the education sector.

According to the 2017 Global Education Monitoring Report, in 2015 governments spent, on average, 4.7 per cent of GDP or 14.1 per cent of total public expenditure on education. For Europe and North America, the average was 5.1 per cent of GDP, many developing countries however did not even manage three per cent.

Even if developing countries increase their own budget funds for education significantly, UNESCO calculations suggest that there will be an annual funding gap of 39 billion US dollars for achieving the education goals of the 2030 Agenda. The poorest countries in particular are therefore dependent on external support, first and foremost in the form of rising commitments for education-related development activities. As it is, however, in recent years, industrialised countries have cut back on funding for development cooperation in the education sector.

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. Many curricula do not set clear targets. They are overloaded with subjects and do not meet the learning needs of primary school pupils. Often, too little attention is paid to cultural and regional factors and to the living conditions of the children and young people. Many curricula also convey distorted or stereotypical male and female role models.

Teaching methods are often outdated. Group work, independent learning, critical thought and problem-solving, using new technologies and teaching life skills are not sufficiently promoted. As a result, young people lack the crucial knowledge and skills that will later help them make their way in the labour market.

Lack of schools and teachers

Schoolchildren in eastern Chad

Rural regions in particular, but also 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 some distance away as 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 low pay. Many schools are poorly equipped.

Many teachers are also poorly trained and ill-prepared for what awaits them in schools. The low esteem in which the profession is held, lack of job security because of fixed-term contracts and the remote location of many schools do not make teaching an attractive vocation.

According to recent projections from UNESCO, almost 69 million new teachers will be required between now and 2030 in order to ensure that high-quality primary and secondary education can be provided worldwide.

Lack of post-primary education

With more and more boys and girls being enrolled in school in developing countries and also finishing primary school, more post-primary education and training opportunities need to be established. The opportunities available are not adequate and, in many cases, they are neither geared to the requirements of the economy and of society, nor do they meet the needs of the young people.

The vocational training systems in many countries are rudimentary. The teaching is usually too theoretical and too little in line with the needs of the labour market. Universities and colleges in developing countries are poorly equipped and lack funding. Very few of them are able to fulfil their responsibilities as institutions for teaching and research adequately.

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