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November 21, 2017

Equipping Africa’s primary school learners for the future

By Constance Berry Newman

Education remains a crucial component of economic development and poverty reduction. Primary education is especially important, as it provides students with the foundational skills necessary to continue with advanced education and participate in local and global economies. Collectively, educational benefits extend beyond individuals to benefit broader communities.


Despite its importance, primary education in Africa remains in a persistent crisis. Of the sixty-one million children out of school globally in 2016, over half were in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to low enrollment, the quality of primary education in Africa is among the poorest in the world, and far too many African learners drop out of primary school or graduate without obtaining the skills necessary for success at higher educational levels. At the root of the issue is that African primary schools, especially those in rural areas, are chronically lacking in funding, materials, qualified teachers, and pedagogies that make learning accessible to the students.

A new report by Africa Center Senior Fellow Constance Berry Newman, Equipping Africa’s Primary School Learners for the Future, details the state of primary education on the continent and its post-independence evolution before discussing the obstacles impeding better learning among African primary students. The report identifies key strategies for improving primary education in Africa, including returning to educational “basics,” teaching students in their mother tongues, and incorporating technology where appropriate.

This report concludes with several case studies, including the model in Morocco, that illustrate the effective implementation of these key strategies.

About the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council’s Education Initiative

With generous support from BMCE Bank of Africa, the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council set out to assess the current state of primary education in Africa. While for many years this issue has rested with the international development community, the Center sought to use its convening power—an ability to reach into academia, the non-profit and private sector worlds, and the policy sphere—to raise the profile of the issue, given the centrality of education policy to solving the economic and security challenges presented by Africa’s youth bulge. In particular, the Center focused on innovative examples of countries and organizations working to set up quality primary education institutions, often in the private sector, and asked whether these successful models could be replicated and scaled. This report is the initiative’s final product.

Related Experts: Constance Berry Newman

Image: SOS Children’s Villages supports hundreds of students in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, where prolonged conflict has made children—especially those who have been orphaned or displaced—especially vulnerable. Photo credit: SOS Children’s Villages International.