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The aftermath of Independence associated with exuberance birthed incredible agenda with education placed at the forefront: attaining universal education, African leaders maintained, would help accelerate post-independent Africa in terms of development.

Over the decades, African leaders have fought tirelessly to improve the educational sector, nonetheless, Africa still records one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Africa’s current primary school enrollment stands around 85% on average, which is amazing. With the continent recording, some of the highest rates of elementary school enrollment globally over the decades, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has established that children in Africa are enrolling in schools more than ever. Irrespective of the substantial increase in the number of children with access to basic education, a large number are still not enrolled.

If Africa has one of the highest rates of primary school enrollments globally, then why do we also record one of the highest rates of illiteracy globally? Obviously, some countries in Africa have very good educational systems but as the saying goes ‘one nut spoils the rest.’

There are some key factors which contribute to the high illiteracy rate in Africa. In a report to Africa Renewal, Angela Lusigi, an author, and strategic advisor for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reports said that though there is a good number of basic level education enrollment, both secondary and tertiary enrollments are on the decrease. “In fact, only 30% to 50% of secondary-school-aged children are attending school, while only 7 to 23% of tertiary-school-aged youth are enrolled. This varies by sub-region, with the lowest levels being in Central and Eastern Africa and the highest enrolment levels in Southern and North Africa,” she said.

According to her, poor standard of living based on low per-capita income is also a key reason for low tertiary and secondary education enrollment in Africa. The UNDP points to the unequal distribution of facilities, such as schools, as one of the drivers of wide income disparities amongst countries.

Inadequate investment in the educational sector by governments is a major contributing factor. Apart from the poor condition of learning, most high and tertiary schools lack good facilities such as computers, well-stocked libraries and labs, internet, and even well trained and qualified teachers. This is one major cause of graduate illiteracy and employment in Africa: a reasonable number of graduates, especially from the tertiary institutions lack analytical, problem solving, and other basic skills required as a prospective entry-level employee.

Primary School Children

Observationally, most of Africa’s education and training programs suffer from low-quality teaching and learning. Among other reasons, some teachers lack proper training, skills and even the standard knowledge needed to teach. Others work ineffectively, probably due to lack of motivation and (or) supervision. These affect the required or standard knowledge acquisition of students. Students, on the other hand, are unable to learn properly due to the weak foundation given at the primary level. Some also cannot afford basic educational necessities like exercise books and textbooks.

Another key reason is the poor standard of living, which makes it funding children through secondary and tertiary school very difficult. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of most countries in Africa is nothing to write home about as compared to that of high-income countries. Considering the fact that education in Africa is quite expensive, most people are not able to continue after their primary education.


For a start, access to early childhood development programs, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, can help reduce inequality by ensuring that all children begin formal schooling with strong foundations.

There is a call to duty for all African leaders to invest adequately in education. Provide good facilities and ensure an enabling environment to foster the kind of education they want (quality education).

To help address the low standard of living which causes low turnouts in school, the UNDP, through its new strategic plan for 2018 to 2021 will work effectively to deliver development solutions for diverse contexts and a range of development priorities, including poverty eradication, jobs and livelihoods, governance and institutional capacity and disaster preparedness and management.


This is our main focus this week. Illiteracy is on the rise in Africa. According to reports, Zimbabwe’s president, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe is currently the most educated person on earth with his country, Zimbabwe being one of the most literate countries in the world, but Africa still has one of the highest figures in terms of illiteracy. Graduate illiteracy is also the order of the day, with a lot churning out from the universities, but still not getting unemployed in their required field. Most graduates as said earlier fall below the cut in relation to critical thinking, analytical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills. It is often said that most graduates in Africa cannot come up with innovative ideas to transform the state of their economies. Let us not rule out the fact that a reasonable number of graduates are incredibly amazing from all angles of development.

Ironically, Africa has some of the best Universities producing thousands of graduates every year but these students are unable to properly move their countries forward in terms of development? Does the system restrict them to unleash their potentials or they actually do not have much to offer?

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