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Key findings
  • On average across 34 countries, one in five African adults (20%) reporting having no formal education, 27% attended primary school, 37% attended secondary school, and 17% attended institutions of higher learning. These proportions have changed little over the past decade
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of citizens who had contact with a public school last year say they found it easy to obtain the services they needed. But almost one in five (18%) say they had to pay a bribe to get the services they needed.
  • For the first time since Afrobarometer surveys began more than two decades ago, a majority (53%) of respondents in a survey round say their governments are doing a poor job on education.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is  through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a  mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the  president of a great nation.”

Mandela’s faith in the dividends of an educated population echoes the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, which highlights quality education as the most powerful tool for lifting children and adults out of poverty (UNESCO, 2020). It is also reflected in the United Nations’ Sustainable  Development Goal (SDG) No. 4, which calls on governments to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030 (United Nations, 2022).

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa was leading the world with impressive gains in primary school enrollment, though the continent still faced enormous challenges of equity and education quality  (United Nations Development Programme, 2022; Musau, 2018; UNESCO, 2017).

The pandemic threatens to wipe out two decades’ worth of progress on education, with millions of children set back by lengthy school closures, lack of access to distance learning, and the diversion of education funding to other priorities (United Nations, 2021; UNICEF, 2021; Human  Rights Watch, 2020).

But Afrobarometer survey findings from 34 African countries show that citizens’ satisfaction with their educational systems was declining even before the pandemic, as countries surveyed in  2019 and early 2020 record the same drops in public approval ratings as those surveyed since the onset of the pandemic. Overall, for the first time in more than two decades, a majority of respondents in an Afrobarometer survey round say their governments are failing them on education.

Kelechi Amakoh

Data analyst for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, Michigan State University.