Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have invested heavily in skills building, with public expenditure on education increasing sevenfold over the past 30 years, the latest World Bank report – Africa’s Pulse – indicates.
The report released in Kampala yesterday by World Bank’s Economist for Africa Region Albert G. Zeufack, indicates that education absorbs about 15 percent of total public spending and nearly 5 percent of GDP, the largest spending ratios among developing regions.
“There is of course variation across countries, in the range of about 11 to 28 percent of total government spending, and from 2 to 15 percent of GDP In addition to public resources, it is estimated that households contribute around 25 percent of the total national education expenditure,” the report indicates.
Further, according to the report, more children in the region are in school today than ever.
‘Over the past half-century, primary completion rates have more than doubled, while completion of lower secondary has increased more than fivefold,’ the report adds. Still, the report says, almost one in every three children fails to complete primary school. In most countries, far less than 50 percent of all children complete lower secondary education, the equivalent of middle school in some countries and fewer than 10 percent make it to higher education.
The report notes that although gender gaps in both primary and secondary school have narrowed in most African nations, there remain significantly more girls than boys out of school. In some countries, it says, there are fewer than three girls for every four boys.
It points out that for children in school, learning outcomes have been persistently poor, leading to huge gaps in basic cognitive skills (literacy and numeracy) among children, young people, and adults. “The literacy rates of the adult population are below 50 percent in many countries, and functional literacy and numeracy are lower.
“Even at recent rates of progress, in the decades to come, the region will continue to fall behind other regions in the world in educational attainment at all levels,” says adding that child stunting rates remain stubbornly high, leading to adverse impacts on all future skill investments.
Meanwhile, according to the report, Sub-Saharan Africa has the youngest population in the world but the region’s working-age group is the least skilled globally, constraining economic prospects.
It states that despite economic growth, declining poverty, and investments in skills-building, too many students in too many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are not acquiring the foundational skills they need to thrive and prosper in an increasingly competitive global economy.
‘Building the skills—cognitive, socio-emotional, and technical, of today’s workers and those of future generations will be vital for realizing the development potential of the region’, the report states in part.
The report recommends that countries’ skill-building efforts must strive to make spending smarter, to ensure greater efficiency and better outcomes. “But smart investing in skills is more difficult than it looks Sub-Saharan African countries face two difficult choices in balancing their skills portfolios: striking the right balance between overall productivity growth and inclusion, on the one hand, and investing in the skills of the workforces of today and tomorrow, on the other hand. “In both cases, these choices are particularly salient with the use of public resources for skills investments,” it says
To attain both growth and inclusion in the region, the report urges governments to invest in strong foundational skills that can close significant gaps in education and training. It says there is need to tackle child stunting and build the literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional skills of children, youths, and adults.
‘This strategy requires focusing on investments in the early years and inputs that matter most for education quality, specifically investing in effective teaching, not merely hiring more teachers or building more buildings. It requires training that draws on the latest evidence, and creating incentives for the best to become teachers, the report says.
Equal access to quality services
According to the report, particular attention must be paid to ensuring equal access to quality services for the poor and to closing gender gaps, especially in high-inequality contexts. It also requires supporting youth and adults who have missed out on foundational skills. Such support would include interventions that build basic literacy and socioemotional skills among those employed in farm and nonfarm rural activities and low-productivity urban self-employment.
The report calls for renewed public-private partnerships (PPPs), with a strong regulatory role for the state as way of expanding basic education skills. It says support should target demand-driven technical and vocational education and training (TVET), higher education, entrepreneurship, and business training programs tied to catalytic sectors. Such support, the report says, should incentivize more on-the-job training, especially in smaller firms.
It says special attention should be paid to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, focusing on the transfer and adoption of technology in economies with an enabling policy environment for these skills investments to pay off.
The report says economic inclusion requires investing in labor market training programs focused on disadvantaged youths, and improving the skills of workers in low-productivity activities in urban areas for instance, through informal apprenticeships and comprehensive livelihood programs and agricultural extension services in rural areas.
For adaptability, the report says reforms should be introduced in secondary and tertiary education to delay the tracking of students into technical education and vocational streams, at least until the upper secondary level. In addition, education systems should create effective pathways between academic and technical tracks, and introduce more active and work-based learning practices.
The report urges families to invest and nurture children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development through quality care and parenting, and by engaging with schools to hold them accountable for effective service delivery.
According to the report, the private sector can participate effectively in the provision of services to enhance access and quality, invest in on-the-job training, work with education and training providers to ensure programs are aligned with their needs, and engage in national social dialogue to prioritize skills development and reforms, to create a policy-enabling environment for skills investments to pay off.