No TEACHER GUIDE, No TEXTBOOKS, No CHAIRS:

No TEACHER GUIDE, No TEXTBOOKS, No CHAIRS:

CONTENDING WITH CRISIS IN AFRICAN EDUCATION

Joel Samoff

Ó1999

Prepared for presentation at the

43'd Annual Meeting Of the African Studies Association

Philadelphia, 11‑14 November 1999

Revised: 23 October 1999

 


 

No Teacher Guide, No Textbooks, No Chairs: Contending with Crisis in African Education'

Joel Samoff

 

The sense of excitement, hope, and anticipation in African education has been replaced by widespread dismay, disappointment, and discouragement. As the twentieth century closes, the general consensus is that education in Africa is in crisis. Africa has of course also been the site of imaginative experiments, innovations in the content and forms of education, and critical reflections on the role of education in society. Both long before Europeans arrived and to this day, Africa's intellectual contributions have had global influence. Still, the prevailing wisdom highlights crisis. After a period of rapid growth and dramatic progress, education in Africa, at all levels and in all forms, is in dire straits, we are told. With few exceptions, both schools and learning have deteriorated, and the situation is continuing to worsen. Roofs leak and wind blows through paneless windows. There are too few teachers to sustain expanded access, too many teachers have had little preparation, and very few teachers have opportunities to improve their skills. Universities have experienced stagnating or declining budgets and simultaneous pressures to increase enrollment. Libraries are outdated, laboratories poorly equipped, and funds for research nearly nonexistent. The need for action is urgent. The challenge is to revitalize education in Africa and to do so in ways that enable African countries not only to close the development gap but to leap ahead.

Notwithstanding imaginative responses to crisis and remarkable resilience in face of adversity, commentators see no end for the decay and disarray.

In the 1990s and beyond, institutions of higher education in Africa, especially the universities, must contend with several interrelated major problems, whose combined effect threatens to strangulate them. . . . . To say that higher education is in Africa is in crisis does not mean simply that the funds available to run higher education institutions are grossly inadequate .... More than that, African countries and societies are going through a period of econon‑dc uncertainty, political and social upheavals, plus other contortions, and higher education has become a victim of the prevailing state of affairs. The situation is likely to remain so, well into the twenty‑first century.1

 

How, then, to make sense of this transition from the expansive expectations of the immediate post‑colonial era to pervasive degeneration, from promise to progress to crisis? Like education itself, the analysis of education in Africa requires attention to both content and forms, and especially to context and process. In the remainder of this brief overview, let us explore major issues and themes in education in contemporary Africa.' My concern is draw on diverse sources to explore both outcomes and, more important, analytic frameworks.

"Education in Africa," like "African education," is of course a simplification fraught with risk. For most purposes, neither exists. With care, it is possible to study education in Guin6e or to explore the unique characteristics of, say, Ghanaian education. But where the diversity within countries is vast and where most countries are themselves of very recent origin, it is foolhardy to speak in general terms about a continent of more than 50 countries. Still, to identify and understand similarities and commonalities we must at times defer attention to individual variations. Hence, as we consider here shared patterns across Africa, we must at the same time constantly recall and respect Africa's rich diver. sity and consider carefully the bounding conditions for each general comment.

 

 

Education in Africa at the Century's End

 

The final decade of the twentieth century is a period of reflection and reevaluation for African development. The optimism of the decolonization of the late 1950s and early 1960s has been displaced by a deep dismay at persisting poverty and a profound pessimism about the viability of any strategy of social transformation. For many, the objective is no longer broad improvement in the standard of living or self‑reliance but simply survival.

Education, too, has experienced a similar transition. Earlier, education, formal and nonformal, was expected to be the principal vehicle for social change, both helping to define the new society and enabling its citizens to function effectively within it. Not only were the illiterate to be able to read and write, but they and other newly educated were also to foster innovation, to accelerate the generation and diffusion of ideas and technologies, and to monitor and manage a responsive political system. Education was also to be the vehicle for redressing discrimination and inequality, both in daily practice and in popular understanding.

There has been progress, in some countries very substantial achievements. Still, in much of Africa, many children get little or no schooling, illiteracy rates have ceased to decline or even risen, school libraries have few books, laboratories have outdated or malfunctioning equipment and insufficient supplies, and learners lack chairs, exercise books, even pencils. As I have noted, nearly all observers characterize contemporary African education as in crisis. Many, both inside and outside Africa, are pessimistic about the ability of national authorities to address the crisis effectively.

In this setting, recourse to foreign aid has become a way of life. Almost without exception, education reform proposals are presumed to require external funding. In some, perhaps many, countries, even the day‑to‑day operation of the education system is dependent on overseas support.

As the general crisis has unfolded, external aid agencies have increasingly cor‑, to provide development advice as well as finance. Notwithstanding its critical role, their funding remains a very .!est portion of total education expenditures. Consequently, their influence may be far greater than the absolute value of their aid suggests. Indeed, some agencies, and especially the World Bank, currently assert that their development expertise is even more important than their funds. "[The World Bank's] ... main contribution must be advice, designed to help governments develop education policies suitable for the circumstances of their countries.'

The increased reliance on foreign aid to support education innovation and reform has been accompanied by another transition, from a conception of education as a human right and general good to understanding education instrumentally, primarily in terms of its contribution to national growth through the development of the knowledge and skills societies are deemed to need. Occasional voices continue to insist that education is liberating and that learning is inherently developmental. Most often, however, education is regarded as distinctly instrumental, an investment in a country's future, a production system that (more or less successfully) turns out people with particular competencies and attitudes, and a delivery system that transfers wisdom, expectations, ways of thinking, and discipline to the next generation‑ As we shall see, these two currents‑on the one hand the expanded role for foreign aid and its providers and with it the tendency to address education through the prism and with the tools of finance and on the other understanding education primarily as preparation for work‑reinforce each other with enduring consequences for education in Africa.

Let us review briefly that trajectory, from education as social transformation, broad development engine, and foundation for self‑reliance to aid dependence and education as targeted skills formation.

 

 

Toward Education for All

 

For nearly all African countries, the starting point was an inherited education system that excluded most of the population. For education to transform society, therefore, the first task had to be to expand access, and to do so massively and rapidly. Indeed, expanded access had become both a popular demand of the anti‑colonial nationalist movement and a promise of the newly installed leadership. The premise was personal as well as political. Access to edu­cation was the primary route by which nearly all of Africa's initial leaders escaped, or rather mitigat­ed, the discrimination and domination of European rule. Where there was a clear effort to reject race and other ascriptive criteria for employ­ment and promotion, education's  selection role became even more important. As well, opening schools in urban neighborhoods and rural villages was the most readily achievable and visible man­ifestation of the new government's accomplishments. The progress in this regard was indeed remarkable.

         Unfortunately, before turn­ ing to the data on African educa­tion, we must recognize that the apparent precision provided by numbers is often fundamentally misleading. Put sharply, the margin of error on reported African educa tion data is often far larger than the observed variation. Hence, an apparent change over time‑say, in enrollment or public spending‑may not be a change at all.

 

 

Table 1  On Africa Education Statistics

 


SOURCE

 

PRIMARY GRoss

ENROLLMENT Ratio

(%)a

SUB‑SAHARAN AFRICA

 

 

1970

 

1980

1990

UNESCO, World Education Report 1991

 

46.3

 

76.2

UNESCO, World Education Report 1993

 

 

 

77.5

68.3

World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan.Africab

 

 

48.0

76.0

 

World Bank, African Development Indicators

         1994‑1995

 

 

77.0

66.0

World Bank, World Development Report 1993b

 

46.0

 

 

68.0

World Bank, World Development Report 1995b     

 

50.0

 

 

World Bank, World Development Report 1996c

 

 

80.0

 

 

World Bank, World Development Report 1997'

 

79.0

 

 

 

 

The problems are several. Available figures are often inaccurate, inconsistent, and not readily comparable. Schools, districts, and other sources provide incomplete and inaccurate information. Sources differ on periodization and on the specification of expenditure categories. Especially common are the confusion of budget and actual expenditure data and the comparison of budget figures in one year with expenditure reports in another. Recurrent and development (capital) expenditures are treated inconsistently. Often the available data do not include individual, family, local government, and direct foreign spending. Discussions of the cost of education in fact generally refer to government expenditures on education. Inflation, deflation, and exchange rates are treated inconsistently. Data series are frequently too short to be sure that observed variation reflects significant change.

 

One example of this problem must suffice as the caveat for the data that follow.6 How many children are in school? Or, more important, what percentage of the relevant age group is in school? Table 1 lists the primary gross enrollment ratio for Sub‑Saharan Africa (recall, available data generally exclude North Aftica) in 1970, 1980, and 1990 as re­ ported in several wide ly used sources. Notice that that the reported figure for for 1970 varies from46% to 50%-nearly a 9% difference –in diffrener edtion of the World bank’s own publication. Similarly, in this small sample, the reported figures for 1990 vary  from 66% to 76% a 15% diffrence.  What happened over those two decades? Did primary enrollment increase by two‑thirds (from 46% to 76%) or half that (a 32% increase, from 50% to 66%), or something in between? From the available data, we cannot be sure. What we can reasonably say is that fewer than half the school aged children were in school in 1970, that by 1980 progress had been substantial, with some three‑fourths in school, and that there had been a significant decline by 1990.

 

Table 2: Enrollment Growth, sub-Saharan Africa, 1960-1995

 

Millions and Percent

Growth since 1960

(1995 as % of 1960)

 

1960

1970

1980

1990

1995

1960-1995

Primary

11.85

21.0

47.1

58.1

76.5

646%

secondary

0.79

2.6

8.1

11.9

18.8

2.380%

Tertiary

0.02

0.1

0.3

0.9

1.9

9.048%

Sources: for 1960, 1970, and 1980: World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa. Tables A‑ 1, A‑2.and A‑4. for 1990: UNESCO, World Education Report 1993, Regional Tables 6, 7. and 8.for 1995: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998. Regional Tables 6, 7, and B.

 Note: Forgiven years, UNESCO estimates are higher than corresponding World Bank estimates. Hence, while the expansion of enrollment is clear, the magnitude of that change may be somewhat less than suggested by this comparison of reported 1960and 1995 data.                                                                                                                                                                          

 

The implications seem clear. First, it is essential to take seriously that margin of error, that is, to treat most national education statistics as rough approximations. Second, small observed changes may be more apparent than real. Even changes on the order of 5 ‑ 10% (or greater) may reflect nothing more significant than random fluctuations, annual variations, and flawed statistics. Consequently, apparent changes of that magnitude are a weak foundation for broad inferences and for public policy. Third, both researchers and policy makers must reject statistics whose underlying assumptions require a level of precision, or linearity, or continuity that the data do not reliably support. Finally, effective use of available data requires seeing through the facade of precision and demystifying the use of statistics. A profu. sion of numbers neither makes a particular interpretation more valid nor renders a policy proposal more attractive. Indeed, the numeric halo may well obscure far more than it reveals.

Duly cautious, let us consider the accomplishments. Primary school enrollments increased more than sixfold from 1960 to 1995 (Table 2). From very small starting points, secondary enrollments were 23 times greater in 1995 than in 1960, and tertiary 90 times larger. In societies where at the end of colonial rule less than a tenth of the population was deemed literate, illiteracy steadily declined (Table 3). Comparable figures for the number of schools opened, postsecondary institutions created, and new teachers recruited show similar substantial growth. Clearly, access to education expanded dramatically and rapidly.

Yet, those growth rates could not be sustained. Indeed, some measures showed important reversals where progress had seemed assured (Table 4). For many countries the primary enrollment ratio stagnated or even declined, one indication of the deterioration of public services and of the inability of governments to meet their commitment to move toward schooling for all their citizens. At the same time, the supporting infrastructure for the rapid expansion was also sorely stretched. In many places buildings were not maintained, crash teacher recruitment programs were not accompa. nied by in‑service professional development opportunities, low salaries forced teachers to look outside their classrooms to supplement their incomes, curriculum revision and textbook preparation proceeded slowly if at all, and morale plummeted. By the late 1980s African education was in crisis.

 

It is not uncommon to find a teacher standing in front of 80‑100 pupils who are sitting on a dirt floor in a room without a roof, trying to convey orally the limited knowledge he has, and the pupils trying to take notes on a piece of wrinkled paper using as a writing board the back of the pupil in front of him. There is no teacher guide for the teacher and no textbooks for the children7

 

For at least some countries the situation has continued to deteriorate, with a decline in the absolute number of children enrolled in schools. Overall, the proportion of Africa's school age children actually in school now is smaller than it was at the beginning of the 1980s.

 

Note, too, that access to education in Africa is substantially lower than in most other regions of the world' SubSaharan Africa's primary gross  enrollment ratio in 1995 was 73.9%, compared to 99.1% for the Less Developed Regions as a group, 99.6% for the World, and 104.5% for the More Developed Regions. At the secondary level in the same year, Sub‑Saharan' Africa's gross enrollment ratio is  half that of the Less Developed Regions: 24.3% (Sub,Saharan Africa), 48.8% (Less Developed Regions), 58.1% (World), and 105.8% (More Developed Regions). At the tertiary level the gaps are larger still: 3.5% (Sub~ Saharan Africa), 8.8% (Less Developed Regions), 16.2% (World), and 59.6% (More Developed Regions). Within Africa, the  variation was large, for example at the primary level from 29% (Niger) to 135% (Malawi).

 

In 1990 governments and international and non‑governmental organ‑ nizations enthusiastically committed themselves to Education For All.9 Though it shared that commitment, indeed was and is one of its principal arenas of action, Africa found itself moving in the opposite direction. Far from an engine for social transformation, Africa's education systems found it increasingly difficult to provide even basic schooling.

 

Table 3 Estimated Adult literacy Rate, Sub-Saharan Africa, 1960-1990

 

 

Percent

 

 

1960

1970

1980

1990

1995

Adult Literacy

9.0

22.6

40.2

47.3

56.8

Sources: 1960: World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa, Table C‑4.

1970: UNESCO, World Education Report 1991. Table R8.

1980: UNESCO, World Education Report 1995, Table 3. (Note that UNESCO, World Education Report 1993. gives 32.5% for 1980.)

1990: UNESCO, World Education Report 1993, Table 3.

1995: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998, Regional Table 3.

 

Note: Estimates of adult literacy are likely to have a large margin of error and may be calculated and reported differently by different sources or by the same source in different years. For example. while the UNESCO World Education Report 1995 estimates adult literacy for 1980 to have been 40.2% (as shown above), the UNESCO World Education Report 1993 estimates adult literacy for 1980 to have been 32.5%. For another example, while the UNESCO World Education Report 1998 estimates adult literacy in 1995 to have been 56.8% (as shown above), the African Development Report 1998 estimates adult literacy for that year to have been 44% (Fable 1. /). Hence. although the data suggest steadily increasing literacy over this period, since the margin of error is likely to be greater than the annual, or even the five‑year. variation, we cannot be sure

 

 

Large Commitments, Little Wealth

 

What had happened? In Africa as elsewhere it is common to blame governments for education problems. What is particularly striking, however; is the extent to which governments maintained their commitment to education even in periods of dire economic distress. Many African governments adopted structural adjustment programs, with a larger or smaller role for the international financial organizations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Often termed "liberalization," these programs generally emphasized substantial devaluation, decreased direct government role in the economy, especially in productive activities, reduction in the size of the civil service, encouragement of foreign investment, and support for privatization of many activities, including public services. Nearly everywhere the implementation of these policies meant increased prices for consumer goods and new or increased fees for social services, including education. Notwithstanding the pressures to constrain or reduce education spending, for example by employing paraprofessional or other lower paid instructional personnel, many African governments maintained their basic commitment to funding education. Expressed as a percentage of the national budget, spending on education did not decline (Table 5). Indeed, in terms of the overall economy, the level of spending on education in much of Africa is comparable to or greater than that in the world's most affluent countries (Table 6).

 

A large portion of a small budget, however, is still small. For Africa, government revenues did not permit a

 continuing increase in enrollments or even the maintenance of per capita spending that is very low in

 international terms. Over several decades, international terms of trade have generally worsened for Africa. In

 some countries, servicing the national debt requires a share of the national budget

 comparable to that of education. That is, while Africa's relative spending on education was high, the actual

amounts were very small. By 1995, Sub‑Saharan Africa was spending $87 per pupil while North America was

 spending $5,150, Europe $4,552, and Latin America and the Caribbean, $444 (Table 7). Equally dramatic,

while the per capita education spending increased 66% in North America from 1985 to 1995, 152% in

Europe, and 110% in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Sub, Saharan Africa during the same period the

per capita spending de. clined 5%. That African countries came to independence with few educated people

and a very small education infrastructure and have a much larger school‑age population makes the

 comparison even more stark. Thus, while there has clearly been ineffective and inefficient education (and

national) management, and while there surely can be more effective use of limited funds, the principal

constraint has been not a lack of commitment or a failure of leadership or inefficiency, but rather

 the volume of total government revenue. Increasing indebtedness, another consequence of aid dependence,

 consumes an increasing portion of the revenue that is available. Even with great sacrifices, in absolute terms

 there was little money for education.

The resource constraint is compounded by a generally conservative policy orientation that equates education with formal schools and that is reluctant to explore alternative learning approaches that depart significantly from the common classroom model. Education was to be the developmental engine, the principal strategy for eliminating poverty and closing the gap between the most and least affluent countries.

For education to play that role, however, especially in the absence of radically innovative curriculum, pedagogy, and school organization, required resources that were simply not available. A consequence of this dilemma is that for poor countries‑most of the world's poorest countries are in Africa‑the development gap is likely to continue to expand. Education for all remains not only a distant, but apparently a receding goal. It is useful to note here that within countries, differences in communities' and individuals' ability to invest in education are constrained by redistributive education financing. Though the specific mechanisms vary, the common general principle is that the most affluent segments of the education of the poorest children.

 

Table 4 Primary Gross Enrollment Ratio,   Sub‑Saharan Africa, 1970‑1990

 

Percent

1970

1980

1985

1995

46.3

77.5

76.1

68.3

Sources:

1970: UNESCO, World Education Report 1991, Table R4.

1980: UNESCO, World Education Report 1993, Regional Table 6.

1985: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998. Regional Table 6.

1990: UNESCO, World Education Report 1993, Regional Table 6.

 

 

Notwithstanding the contemporary fascination with globalization, there has yet to emerge a serious proposal for estab lishing that pattern globally, that is for internationally redistributive education funding. To date, foreign aid provides a very small percentage of Africa's total spending on education, 10 and whatever its magnitude, much of the aid to African education is in fact spent on personnel, services, products, and scholarships in the aid‑providing country. Hence, in at least some settings, far from redistribution toward Africa, foreign aid may in fact function to generate a net outflow of both capital and skills from Africa.

 

Table 5     Public Expenditure on Education As a Percentage of Total Government Expenditure. Sub‑Saharan Africa, 1970‑1995

(Percent)

 

Percent

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

16.7

16.6

16.2

15.0

16.7

17.6

Sources: 1960‑1980: World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa, Table A‑ 14 (weighted mean).

1985: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998, Table 10.

1990: Association for the Development of African Education, A Statistical Profile of Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa, 1990‑1993, Table A‑ 14.

1995: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998, Table 10.

Note: In view of my earlier comments about unreliable data and in view of the multiple sources of error in these derived figures, I present them reluctantly. Since the margin of error is likely to be large, the most reasonable interpretation is that these data suggest there has not been significant change in the proportion of the Sub‑Saharan Africa's national budgets allocated to education over this 25 year period

 

Desegregation and Resegregation

 

Along with expanded access, the second major commitment of Africa's post‑colonial leadership was to desegregate the schools and the curriculum. On that, progress has been substantial. Formal racial restrictions were eliminated immediately. Informal barriers weakened as senior civil servants and other more affluent Africans moved into formerly white neighborhoods and sent their children to elite schools. Although the most egregious elements were addressed immediately, for example teaching the history of Africa as the history of Europeans in Africa, revising the general curriculum has taken longer and proved more difficult. Post‑colonial education systems had few African staff with relevant exper­tise and experience, and in any case revising instructional materials and teachers' guides is a time consuming and often expensive process. Equally important, since curriculum revision revolves around issues of quality and standards, proposed replacements for the inherited materials were often sharply debated. Not infrequently, proposed modifications were rejected as polemical or political. The persist‑ ing powerful role of national examinations, widely accepted as the official and formal measure of the quality of educa tion and revised much more slowly and less radically than instructional materials, continues to be a brake on curricu lum revision.

 

Table 6: Estimated Public Expenditure on Education, 1980-1995 as Percentage of Gross National Product

 

 

Percent

 

1980

1985

1990

1995

Sub‑Saharan Africa

5.1

4.8

5.1

5.6

World Total

4.9

4.9

4.9

4.9

North America

 

5.2

5.1

5.4

5.5

Europe

 

5.2

5.2

5.1

5.4

Latin America and

Caribbean

 

3.8

3.9

4.1

4.5

Source: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998, Table 12.

 

At the same time, there are clear indications of the reemergence of racial differentiation in at least some African countries. The combination of deterioration (actual and perceived) in schools' quality and financial crisis has led to efforts transfer a larger share of the costs of schooling to students and their families, generally through school fees and in some countries an expanded role for private schools. High fee schools, whether public or private, can offer better prepared and better paid teachers, equipped and staffed libraries, laboratories, and computer centers, and frequently increased likelihood of success at the next selection point. Where that occurs, schools become stratified. Notwithstanding commitments to equal opportunity, in practice access to elite schools is a function of disposable resources. While the differentiator is money rather than race, since the two are related, racial distinctions have reemerged, in some countries even within government schools. Ironically, where the (formerly) white schools are perceived to provide the highest quality education, the newly admitted African elite often becomes the staunchest defenders of their privileges. It seems likely this will prove to be a particularly daunting problem for South Africa, where decentralized authority provides some protection for white parents who seek to preserve their generally better funded, staffed, and equipped schools.

 

Equality and Equity

A third commitment of the post‑colonial leadership was to use the education system to address inequality. Expanded access was an important but insufficient step in that direction. At a minimum, schools were no longer to reproduce and reinforce the inequalities and injustices of the larger society. Non‑ discriminatory recruitment and meritocratic selection were to redress the inherited inequities.

Historically, schools had been primary agents in reproducing a sharply unequal social order. Limited recruitment and severely constrained academic pathways restricted most Africans to less skilled and lower paying jobs and to their concomitant social status. There were important exceptions. A few Africans did reach the highest levels of the educa tion system, surpassing many of their European peers. A few poets, novelists, and playwrights found ways to publish their work. A few West Africans were elected to the French parliament and served in the cabinet. Especially where missionary education had a longer history, a few families could point to several generations of university graduates. That schooling was not fully racially exclusive, however, did not make it egalitarian. Most Africans simply never got the chance. Most of the few who did soon found they could no longer proceed. Hence, to convert schools from institutions for creating and maintaining inequality into vehicles for achieving equality would require a fundamental transformation. What in fact has occurred in this regard? Framing our efforts to explore that are several issues of terminology and public policy.

          First, common in much of the analysis of education in Africa is a confusion of equity and equality. This confusion is potentially quite problematic for public policy, since although generally equity requires equal treatment, there may be particular circumstances when achieving equity requires differentiated treatment.

One manifestation of the equation of the two terms is in the World Bank's 1995 review of education policies, which assigns equity a high priority and defines it in terms of access to school." Basic educa­tion should be universal, and "qualified potential students [should not be] denied access to institutions because they are poor or female, are from ethnic minori­ties, live in geographically remote regions, or have special education needs." That is, equity means equal treatment, and thus the confusion.

       Equality has to do with same­ness, or in public policy, with non discrimination.  Equality has to do with making sure that some learn­ers are not assigned to smaller classes, or receive more or better textbooks, or are preferentially pro­moted because of their race, or gender, or regional origin, or family wealth. While there may be valid educational grounds for differentiating among students, equal access requires that status differences not function to limit or guide admission, promotion, and selection.

 

Table 7 Estimated Public Current Expenditure on Education, 1985 and 1995 Per Pupil and Percent of GNP Per Capita

 

 

US $ and Percent

1985

1995

US $

% of GNP

per Capita

US $

% of GNP

per Capita

Sub-Saharan Africa

92

29.0

       87

30.4

World Total

683

22.4

1, 273

22.0

North America

3 107

19.0

5, 150

22.0

Europe

1 803

22.1

4, 552

22.7

Latin America and Caribbean

211

11.7

    444

12.9

Source: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998. Table 13.

 

Equity, however, has to do with fairness and justice. And there is the problem. Sometimes the two do not go together, at least in the short term. Where there has been a history of discrimination‑which of course is the common case for essentially all former colonies‑justice may require providing special encouragement and support for those who were disadvantaged in the past. Given its history, what is equitable education in post‑apartheid South Africa? Clearly, repealing discriminatory laws will not in itself achieve equality of access any time soon. Nor will the discriminatory elements embedded in curriculum, pedagogy, and examinations disappear of their own accord. The circumstances in which focused attention and additional assistance are required and appropriate are and ought to be a matter of public debate. But where it is deemed reasonable, that affirmative action may involve pursuing policies that treat different groups of people in somewhat different ways. The point, of course, is not to keep the advantaged group out, but rather to help the disadvantaged group to join in.

 

To achieve equity‑justice‑may require structured inequalities, at least temporarily. Achieving equal access, itself a very difficult challenge, is a first step toward achieving equity. But to define equity as equality distracts attention from injustice rather than exploring and addressing the links between discrimination and injustice.

As well, even within the more limited specification of equity as equality, what is generally envisioned is equality of opportunity. But how is it possible to know whether or not opportunities have been equal without considering outcomes? A careful study might, for example, find no visible gender discrimination in selection to primary school, or in the primary school pedagogy. But if that study also finds that the attrition and failure rates are much higher among girls than among boys, we might conclude that opportunities were not equal after all. Similarly, if regional origin, or race, or ethnicity is clearly visible in examination results, notwithstanding the lack of obvious regional or racial or ethnic discrimination, we might again conclude that in fact opportunities were not equal. That is, measures of access are insufficient for assessing equality of opportunity. Discovering and redressing inequalities of opportunity requires considering outcomes as well as starting points.

Second, also common in discussions of equality and equity is the assumption of a fundamental tension between growth and equity. African countries must choose, commentators often assert, between allocating resources to promote growth or instead using those resources to achieve equity. While it is certainly the case that African governments must make development choices, it is far from clear that growth and equity are alternatives, especially in education. Where inequality is associated with the concentration of wealth and persisting poverty for the majority, for example, limited consumer demand may constrain the expansion of production and productive capacity. Where competencies and understandings are not widely diffused, there may be chronic difficulties in filling skilled labor posts and thus continued reliance on much more expensive expatriates, and it may be correspondingly difficult to reorient the work force as forms and circumstances of production change. Intensified inequality is both a barrier to broad participation in democratic governance and a breeding ground for socially disruptive discontent. Though less often argued, there is a strong case for the view that growth and equity are not alternatives but mutually dependent, each requiring and advancing the other.

Third, as access has expanded, in part because of the massive resources required to transform primary education for a selected elite into basic education for all, that broadened base quickly narrows into a highly selective education system in most of Africa. The exclusion point has moved farther along in the school cycle. As Table 8 shows, for all of Sub‑Saharan Africa, fewer than one‑fourth of those who start school proceed beyond the basic level and only 2.5% reach tertiary education. Comparable percentages for Latin American and the Caribbean are 31.6% and 9.9% and for North America are 88. 1% and 6 1.0%. These continental figures surely ob‑ scure significant variations among African countries. Still, they show clearly that for most Africans, schooling is a process of ever narrowing selection, with only a few learners able to proceed to the advanced levels.

Fourth, while earlier discussions of (in)equality and (in) equity in education were generally concerned with region (a surrogate for ethnicity and, more commonly, tribe), in recent years the principal focus has shifted to gender. Explaining that transition in focus and exploring its consequences is beyond the scope of this paper. It is important to note, however, that there is substantial and reliable evidence that access to and success in school is in many places sharply differentiated by region, religion, race or national origin, and class. Learners from one area of the country, for example, are more likely to be selected and do better than their peers from other areas. Available data indicate that Christian communities generally have more schools, more children in school, and more graduates than Muslim communities. Within Africa, Koranic and other Muslim schools have not been a serious academic alternative to secular (that is, western and at least unofficially Christian) education. Where relevant data are collected, the systematic finding is that children from more affluent and higher status families are more likely to find school places and to proceed to higher levels. Notwithstanding the ample evidence of these inequalities, they are far less often the focus of discussion and systematic research than gender differentiation. Several countries have adopted gender affirmative action programs. But there seem to be no comparable initiatives to assist prospective learners discouraged or disadvantaged by region, ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, or socioeconomic status. Earlier age,related affirmative action, for example, mature age entry schemes for higher education with reserved places for older applicants, seem to have been deemphasized or discarded.

 

Table 8 Enrollment and Selection. Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa,

1995

 

Level

Total

Enrollment

(millions)

As Percent

of Preceding

Level

As percent of

Primary Enrollment

Primary

 

76.5

_

_

Secondary

 

18.8

24.6%

24.6%

Tertiary

 

1.9

10.1%

2.5%

Source: UNESCO, World Education Report 1998, Tables 6. 7. and 8.

 

 

 

Let us now turn now to efforts to encourage and support girls to enter and succeed in school. As Table 9 shows, while the percentage of literate adult females in Sub‑Saharan Africa has more than tripled over the past quarter century, still half remain illiterate while two‑thirds of the adult males are literate. Progress toward equal gender access to primary school has been clear, though for the countries of Sub‑Saharan Africa as a group, females do not yet constitute half the enrollment (Table 10). From lower starting points (one‑fourth of the secondary school population and one tenth of tertiary enrollment in 1960), there has been similar progress at secondary and tertiary levels. Still, by the mid 1990s females constituted only slightly more than one‑third of total tertiary enrollment. The variation among African countries is substantial. At the primary level, for example, the female gross enrollment ratio in 1995 varied from 22% (Niger) to 134% (Namibia).12 In the same year, the variation in the female gross enrollment ratio at the secondary level was from 4% (Chad and Malawi) to 88% (South Africa), and at the tertiary level from 0. 1 % (Chad and Tanzania) to 15.2% (South Africa)13.

A recent research overview concluded that

although tremendous gains have been made since the 1960s in most places, participation levels of girls still remain lower than those of boys. Repetition, drop‑out and failure is very high among girls, beginning at the primary level and continuing throughout the system: many girls remain outside the formal education system. The small number of girls who remain in the system tend to be directed away from science, mathematics and technical subjects .... Consequently, female participation in the [formal] labour market is limited .... Female illiteracy remains high."

 

It is striking that in a very short period the concern with females' experiences in education has moved from relative inattention to a central focus of education analysis and in at least some countries, of education policy and planning. A review of nearly 150 broad studies of African education undertaken during the late 1980s found little explicit attention to girls' education. A review of some 240 studies completed in the early 1990s found that essentially all addressed that topic. 15 That increased attention has been accompanied by the development of organizations, institutions, and networks concerned with females' education at the continental, national, and local levels. Several of the external funding agencies, international, national, and nongovernmental, many within the context of their own gender or women in development programs, provide significant sup, port for efforts to increase girls' recruitment and school success.

 

Table 9 Estimated Adult Literacy Rates in Sub‑Saharan Africa, 1970‑1995

 

 

Percentages

year

Total

Female

Male

1970

22.6%

13.2%

32.5%

1980a

32.5%

22.3%

43.2%

1980b

40.2%

29.2%

51.8%

1985

45.6%

34.9%

56.7%

1990

47.3%

35.6%

59.5%

1995

56.8%

47.3%

66.6%

Percentage of literature adults in the population aged 15 years and older.

Sources:

1970 UNESCO, World Education Report. 1991,Table R8.

1980' UNESCO, World Education Report, 1993. Table 3.

1980' UNESCO, World Education Report. 1995, Table 3.

1985 UNESCO, World Education Report. 1998,       Table 3,

1990 UNESCO, World Education Report, 1993,Table 3.

1995 UNESCO, World Education Report, 1998.,Table 3.

 

 

At the same time, dissonant voices persist. As elsewhere, some believe that the differential experiences of males and females simply reflect deep characteristics of human society and therefore cannot be modified dramatically. Others see the concern with gender as yet one more value and priority imported to Africa and imposed by outsiders, often as a condition for foreign aid. Still others accord gender no special prominence, insisting instead on addressing gender as part of a broader focus on equality and equity.

The most common research orientation in this arena reflects very clearly both the dominance and limitations of what has come to be the standard model for social science research. Generally, the starting point is a set of instrumental assumptions about the value and importance of educating females, especially expanding and strengthening the skills of the work force, increasing employability, improving family health, and reducing fertility. If educating females produces clear social and individual benefits, then when do they not constitute half the school population? Researchers then seek to identify explanatory factors for lower enrollment or higher attrition, both in and out of school. The candidate causes are by now well known: parental attitudes, gender‑differentiated expectations for future income (based at least in part on gender‑differentiated salary scales), fernales' labor and house hold responsibilities, the absence of role models at home and

in school, explicit and implicit discouragement for pursuing particular courses of study, parents' level of education, family religious and moral precepts, sexual harassment and early pregnancy, and more. Much of this commentary talks of bringing women into the development process.

Some analysts, however, stress that as primary producers of agriculture and reproducers of the family women are already at the core of the development process. In that view, the problem is not one of malintegration but rather the relations of power and authority. From this perspective, since schools reflect the social order in which they function, it is not surprising that societal gender distinctions infiltrate and orient the schools. That is, to confront gender inequality in education requires not so much identifying individual causative factors but reconstructing social, and therefore economic and political, relations. In this approach, schools must function not to incorp incorporate females more efficiently into an inegalitarian society but rather schools must become locations and agents of social  ‑ansformation. This understanding of the problem and approaches to it, though forcefully presented in the general literature on African development, is with few exceptions little evident in the studies of African education, which for the most part continue to list variables and attempt to test their relative importance.

 

Education and Development

 

Education has many missions. At the most basic level, education is responsible for developing across society the literacy and numeracy that modem society expects of all its citizens. As it develops that foundation, education also links generations and people, transmitting culture and values and modifying them in the process. The contemporary world demands competencies that go well beyond basic literacy and numeracy. Successful farmers have always comparativists, noting the advantages and disadvantages of planting a bit earlier or closer, or harvesting sooner, or interspersing particular crops. Today,those comparisons require reading, writ  ing, and calculating, indeed more. Successful farmers need to be able to receive nd assess weather forecasts, to under stand when fertilizer will make things grow and when it will bum crops, to learn from experts' experiments and distant experiences, and to project the costs and potential benefits of a particular innovation. Education is thus important not only to a society's elite but to all its members. Knowledge is not static. People refine what they know and often discard what they thought they knew, re­placing it with new understandings. Hence, education must enable learners not only to acquire information and skills but also, and far more important, to learn how to learn. For learners to adapt to changing situations, to take charge of those changes rather than suffer them as victims, education must be a lifelong process, continually renewed and revitalized.

 

Table 10 Female Enrollment by Level, as a Percentage of Total Enrollment contemporary in Sub‑Saharan Africa. 1960‑1995

 

 

Percentages

Year

Primary

Secondary

Tertiary

1960

34%

25%

10%

1970

39%

31%

16%

1980

43%

34%

21%

1985

45%

41%

25%

1990

45%

40%

26%

1995

45%

44%

35%

Sources:

 1960  World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa, Tables A‑ 1. A‑     

           2, and A‑4 (weighted average).                                                        

1970   World Bank, Education in Sub‑Saharan Africa, Tables A‑ 1. A‑

           2, and A‑4 (weighted average).                                                        

1980 UNESCO, World Education Report, 1993, Tables 6, 7. 8.                 

1985 UNESCO, World Education Report, 1995, Tables 6, 7, 8,

1995 UNESCO, World Education Report. 1998, Tables 6, 7, 8.

 

          The focus for Africa's farmers lies well beyond their fields and the village market. To improve their standard of living, they must understand and address how frost in Brazil influences coffee farmers everywhere, how collapsing currencies in South Asia affect the market for cloves, how to put to productive use new findings from distant research centers on cotton blight, and how to organize their own society so that they are not exploited by merchants, landlords, or corrupt politicians. What is usually termed globalization is not new to Africa. As Wallerstein notes,

As used by most persons in the last ten years, 'globalization' refers to some assertedly new, chronologically recent, process in which states are said to be no longer primary units of decision‑making, but are now, only now, finding themselves located in a structure in which something called the 'world market,' a somewhat mystical and surely reified entity, dictates the rules."16

 

Clearly, the international integration of goods, technology, labor, and capital has a long and energetic history. Throughout that period controllers of capital have been powerful decision‑makers, not infrequently determining state behavior. And while new technology does permit instantaneous transmission from one end of the world to the other and does enable researchers in Africa to consult the same electronic databases as researchers in, say, Sweden, Japan, or the U.S., the movement of labor remains sharply controlled and restricted by nationally‑set rules. Colonial rule was, among other things, a general strategy for integrating Africa into the global political economy on terms set largely in Europe. Africa's underdevelopment is in large part a function of global rules that facilitate the flow of capital and restrict the movement of labor. Formally managed by the World Bank and the IMF, structural adjustment plays a similar role. What has changed for Africa in the current era is that information technology accelerates those flows. As Rugumamu puts it, "What distinguishes the nature and magnitude of the impact of globalization on respective actors is the unequal access to dominant organizations, institutions, and dominant transactions in the emerging global order."' 7 For Africa, then, the challenge of globalization is to employ the new technologies to Africa's advantage. To achieve that, education must assure that Africa is able not only to produce cotton, but also to manufacture textiles and to make the looms, build the factories, and create the economic enterprises required to do so efficiently and effectively. Even more. Africa must innovate as well as operate. The development of Africa requires that education enable Africans to be not only effective consumers and managers of production but imaginative and creative producers of production.

We live in an age in which the role of science based technologies as a major determinant of the pace of social and economic change, as well as of global power structures, has become even more pronounced. In the past, there were great civilizations in the South that were fertile in scientific ideas, but the bulk of new knowledge now originates in the developed countries of the North. . . . .

Unless the South learns to harness the forces of modem science and technology, it has no chance of fulfilling its developmental aspirations or its yearning for an effective voice in the management of global interdependence. All its societies must therefore mount a determined effort to absorb, adapt, and assimilate new technological advances as part of their development strategies. Simultaneously, their technological, economic and social structures must acquire a built‑in inducement and capacity to generate new technologies in accordance with their development needs.

The foundation for the build‑up of scientific and technological capabilities in the South is an educated and skilled labor force, with ample opportunities for continuing education and updating of knowledge and skills throughout the productive career. To achieve this, all countries of the South should give priority to providing a high standard of education to all children between the ages of 6 and 15 years, with basic sciences and mathematics being given the importance that is in keeping with the requirements of the modem technological age. The tree of knowledge can flourish only if it is securely planted in the educational system.18

 

Thus, understandings of education's role in development in Africa diverge sharply, with important educational and political consequences. Efforts to expand access, desegregate the schools and curriculum, and promote equity reflect the premise and promise of decolonization. From that perspective, education has a broad and transformative mission. Parallel to that orientation and often in tension with it has been a narrower view of the relationship between education and development (understood broadly as of improved standard of living and the economic changes required to achieve that). Often mechanically economic, this view assigns primary importance to the instrumental role of educa. tion in expanding production and productive capacity and generally considers other education objectives to be societal luxuries that must be deferred as currently unaffordable. However desirable, the humanist aspirations of liberal educa‑ tion, the moral obligation to redress inequalities, the expected social benefits of promoting equity, and the potential power of political mobilization and expanded democratic participation all must wait, or alternatively be achieved as by, products of insisting that schools focus on preparing the next generation for their expected roles in the national and global economies. These are indeed difficult choices, its advocates insist, but unavoidable for poor countries.

That orientation is reinforced by the widespread concern with what is generally termed "educated unemployment." The widespread adoption of this terminology is itself revealing. What in fact is the problem here? What distinguishes the unemployment of the more educated from the joblessness of those with little or no schooling? Surely neither the society at large nor the young people who cannot find jobs would be better off if they were illiterate as well as unemployed. That young people who finish school are frustrated in not finding jobs, or the jobs they think they should have, is primarily a function of job creation (understood broadly) and not of schooling. While those in power may find threatening the rising level of education among the unemployed, that is primarily a problem of politics, not education.

Still, the common assumption is that modifying  education's content and practices will either increase employabil‑ ity or alter expectations, or both. Yet, even with better trained and paid teachers, less crowded classrooms, and suffi. cient instructional materials, the education system cannot on its own overcome the consequences of a stagnant economy. Where there are more seekers than jobs, a modified school curriculum may affect which students find employment but not how many. Life experiences, far more than school lessons, shape expectations. Efforts to reduce unemployment among those who finish school and to reduce their frustration and alienation, must focus on job creation (including providing tools, start‑up capital, and the like) rather than on schooling. In the absence of more jobs‑that is, economic growth‑neither the subject content nor the political education in schools will do much to reduce the frustration or relieve the political elite's concerns.

Combined, the common view of education's role in development and this concern with educated unemployment have generated a series of efforts to link education closely with perceived skills needs. Over time, the strategies for forging that link have evolved. Earlier, the core notion was termed manpower planning, which relied on projected labor needs as the major determinant of current education programmes and allocations. While still widely used, that approach has also been widely criticized. It is difficult and perhaps impossible to develop precise projections of needed skills very far into the future, especially in a growing economy in the midst of rapid industrial and technical change. As well, this approach commonly underestimates the extent and rapidity of career changes. Since it understands education primarily in terms of its skills training consequences, this approach tends to disregard intellectual growth, the develop, ment of critical and problem‑solving abilities, the encouragement of creativity and expression, and many other dimen‑ sions. of education that have no immediate and direct vocational outcome.

In part a response to humanpower planning, an alternative approach emphasized the broad societal interest in access to education and used social demands to shape education programs. This approach, too, has been both widely practiced and widely criticized. While focusing on demand enables education institutions to be very sensitive to changing perspectives and preferences in the population, it is also subject to misunderstandings, fashions, and special circumstances that make it difficult to develop a coherent and integrated national education agenda. A different response to humanpower planning was to locate principal programmatic decision making within education and training institutions. Clearly, this supply orientation maximizes institutional autonomy. Where institutions are especially sensitive to their economic, political, and social context, that autonomy may be very desirable. At the same time, this approach is not readily compatible with efforts to set national policies and priorities. Nor does it facilitate coordinating the activities of different institutions. And where institutions are primarily responsive to their own internal pressures for new and enlarged programmes, the risk of a mismatch between labour market demand and graduates' specializations is very high. Most recently, attention has heavily turned toward decentralized education decision making, to which I shall return below.

The effort to link curriculum and the education system more generally to the labor market has also led to the regularly reiterated charge that schooling is too academic and too humanist. Education must be, the constant refrain goes, relevant to national needs. In this view, most often national needs, relevance, and the curriculum implications of this claim are construed very narrowly. Beyond a rate and pattern of economic growth that enables people to improve their standard of living and develop their spiritual as well as material lives, what exactly are national needs?" Steel mills and a microelectronics industry? More village boreholes and grain mills? What of higher quality and more reliable public services? Or the demand‑often termed "need"‑ for more video recorders and other consumer goods? And what of the need for moral and ethical behavior, or non‑violent conflict resolution, or equitable treatment of all citizens? Where to rank cultural, aesthetic, and literary needs? All societies continually redefine their needs and priorities. In all societies, some groups assert that their needs are the national needs. Education surely has a role in both shaping and addressing national needs, but equally surely there are no linear paths to be followed.

Relevance also makes sense only in terms of context and process. Often, for example, the observation that most people in Africa are rural agriculturalists leads to the assertion that education should focus on farmers' tools and skills. From that perspective, schools that teach languages to introduce young people to other cultures or that assign books intended to expose learners to new ideas and different ways of thinking or insist that students use microscopes to understand and master systematic observation and comparison are wasting time in irrelevant programmes. But if so, how will Africa ever escape its dependence on others' ideas and technologies? How will Africa move beyond exploiting non‑renewable resources to creating and developing new resources? If no Africans experiment with sub‑nuclear particles, or write new computer programs, or devise new approaches to dysentery, malaria, and AIDS, how can Africans assume responsibility for their own direction? How will Africa prepare the next generations to innovate, to invent, to create? If education is to expand horizons rather than limit them, determining what is relevant requires not a simple statement of the obvious but an on‑going engagement with values, expectations, and constraints in each society. Relevant programs emerge not from an authoritative decision but from collaboration and negotiation. In practice, however, it has generally been the narrow construction of needs and relevance that has prevailed. Unemployment is attributed to miseducation, this is, to studying history and language rather than chemistry and accounting.

In sum, there have emerged two sharply divergent perspectives on education and development in Africa. In one, education's role is transformative, liberating, and synthetic. Education must enable people to understand their society in order to change it. Education must be as much concerned with human relations as with skills, and equally concerned with eliminating inequality and practicing democracy. Education must focus on learning how to learn and on examin. ing critically accepted knowledge and ways of doing things. Favoring innovation and experimentation, that sort of education is potentially liberating, empowering, and as such, threatening to established structures Of power, both within and outside the schools. This orientation has remained the minority view.

Notwithstanding occasional initiatives to redefine the core and practice of education, for example, education for self reliance in Tanzania and production brigades in Botswana, the second‑and dominant‑perspective understands education primarily as skills development and preparation for the world of work. The emphasis on relevance assigns low priority to educating historians, philosophers, and poets, and thereby to cultivating the historian, philosopher, and poet in all learners. Fearful of unemployed graduates, leaders expect schools to limit learners' aspirations. Shaped by national examinations, curriculum revolves much more around information to be acquired than around developing strategies and tools for acquiring that information, generating ideas, or crafting critiques.

 



1

a'School enrollment as a percentage of the relevant age group

b 'Weighted average.

 

 

c 'Weighted average: male and female combined.

6

7

13

a

b

16

18