TANZANIA is among sub-Sahara African countries that have made significant progress but are still far from attaining the most easily quantifiable goals of Education for All (EFA) adopted in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, according to a new UNESCO report.
“Advances have been made across the board in sub-Saharan Africa, but progress has been uneven and the region generally lags behind others,” says the 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report, noting that early childhood care, youth and adult learning needs as well as education quality received insufficient attention.
In Tanzania, evidence is everywhere in both rural and urban areas, to prove that primary school enrolment has risen and the country has made great strides towards gender parity at all levels of education.
Through combined efforts of the government, the people and development partners, Tanzania had by 2007 made not only a significant reduction of its out-of-school population but, according to the UNESCO report, had also broken through the 90 per cent threshold towards universal primary enrolment.
Despite these gains, is Tanzania on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015? The same question could be raised in many other developing countries where marginalisation still deprives children of education and life opportunities.
Need for more resources
Now, in the aftershock of the global financial crisis education is threatened worldwide. A combination of slower economic growth, rising poverty and budget pressures are likely to erode the gains of the past decade in this sector.
“While rich countries nurture their economic recovery, many poor countries face the imminent prospect of education reversals,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has cautioned.
“We cannot afford to create a lost generation of children deprived of their chance for an education that might lift them out of poverty,” she added.
In its Global Monitoring Report released last week, UNESCO highlights the ongoing failure of governments to address extreme national inequalities and of donors to mobilise resources on the required scale.
The report says: “Governments across the world constantly reaffirm their commitment to equal opportunity in education and international human rights conventions establish an obligation for them to act on that commitment.
“Yet most governments are systematically failing to address the extreme and persistent education disadvantages that leave large sections of their population marginalized. These disadvantages are rooted in deeply ingrained social, economic and political processes and unequal power relationships – and they are sustained by political indifference.
“They are also often reinforced by practices within the classroom. The failure to place inclusive education at the centre of the Education for All agenda is holding back progress towards the goals adopted at Dakar.”
Measuring marginalization in education is not an easy task to perform because there are no established cross-country benchmarks similar to those applied for assessing income poverty. Besides, the available national data is often not detailed enough to facilitate identification of the marginalized groups.
On this aspect, the 2010 Report includes a new tool, available online, that provides a window on the scale of marginalization within countries, and on the social composition of the marginalized.
Called the Deprivation and Marginalization in Education (DME) data set, it also identifies groups facing particularly extreme restrictions on educational opportunity.
The data set focuses on three core areas:
Education poverty: Young adults aged 17 to 22 who have fewer than four years of education and are unlikely to have mastered basic literacy or numeracy skills.
Extreme education poverty: Young adults with fewer than two years of education, who are likely to face extreme disadvantages in many areas of their lives.
The bottom 20%: Those with the fewest years of education in a given society.
Factors leading to marginalization do not operate in isolation: Wealth and gender intersect with language, ethnicity, region and rural-urban differences to create mutually reinforcing disadvantages.
The Global Monitoring Report, developed by an independent team of experts, observes that throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in countries where the official language is not the most commonly spoken at home, many children are taught in a language other than their mother tongue, contributing to extreme educational disparity.
In Nigeria, for instance, the education attainment gap between the highest and lowest performing language groups is six years; in Mozambique, youth who speak Jaua average one year in education, compared with five years for Portuguese speakers.
Cross-country analysis reveals that in some cases, identifiable social or livelihood groups face almost universal disadvantage. In Uganda, 85 per cent of Karamajong pastoralists have fewer than two years of education, compared with a national average of over six years.
In Kenya, over 70 per cent of Somali young people have fewer than two years of schooling while the national average is 8 per cent. Educational marginalization is also high in conflict-affected countries.
Time spent in school is just one dimension of marginalization. There are also marked gaps in learning achievement linked to socio-economic status. Having a home language different from the official language of instruction is also commonly associated with lower test scores.
Economic shocks, droughts or health problems can also force poor households into coping strategies that damage children’s education, especially girls.
In rural parts of Tanzania, income shocks caused by crop losses increased hours worked by children by 30 per cent and decreased school attendance by 20 per cent.
Quality of education
Achieving EFA hinges not just on delivering more years in school, but also on ensuring that children acquire the necessary skills to shape their future life chances.
Poor-quality education is jeopardising the future of millions of young people, many of whom face the prospect of lifelong illiteracy. Illiteracy in youth and adulthood is the price people and countries pay for past failures of education systems.
When people emerge from school lacking basic reading, writing and numeracy skills and obtain no other education, they face a lifetime of disadvantage.
According to the Global Monitoring Report, poor quality of education in childhood is reflected by illiteracy rates among adults who spent several years in school.
Also, in many developing countries, including in sub-Sahara Africa, differences in pupils performance across schools are linked to the teaching environment, often marked by large variations in class size, availability of books and teaching materials, teacher quality and school building standards.
Teachers are the single most important education resource. In many countries, shortages of trained teachers pose a major barrier, at all education levels, to achieving EFA goals.
The pre-primary pupil/teacher ratio is 40:1 or higher in Benin, Liberia, Uganda and Tanzania. In Kenya, the national ratio of pupils to trained pre-primary teachers is 54:1, but in the arid, largely pastoral district of Turkana, one of Kenya’s poorest, the ratio is 123:1.
This explains the importance of increasing recruitment of primary teachers so that it goes hand in hand with higher enrolment in primary education. Although countries set their own targets for pupil/ teacher ratios, the most widely used international ceiling in primary education is 40:1.
The Report says 22 countries in sub-Sahara Africa had ratios above this ceiling in 2007. The total workforce share of trained primary school teachers in the region that year ranged from 15 per cent in Togo to around 100 per cent in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania.
In Togo, the share of trained teachers in the workforce has fallen from 31 per cent to 15 per cent as recruitment has shifted towards contract teachers.
Recruitment of teachers is just one part of a far wider set of issues that governments have to address. As the report observes, attracting and retaining well-qualified teacher candidates and improving teacher morale have become increasingly difficult.
Balancing teacher salaries with budgetary constraints increases the risk that less qualified teachers might be recruited.
Most countries in sub-Sahara Africa are far from achieving EFA in line with its development index that looks beyond individual goals to provide a complete measure of progress, encompassing access, equity and quality.
The index includes only four most easily quantifiable goals, attaching equal weight to each : Universal primary education, adult literacy, gender parity and equality, and quality.
UNESCO has reported that so far no country has achieved or was close to achieving the four most quantifiable EFA goals.