Africa is not on course to achieve MDG 2 (universal primary completion) or MDG3 (gender equality), although there have been significant increases in initial intake and enrolment rates that are remarkable given the low national incomes, high population growth rates, and high levels of conflict and illness, especially HIV/AIDS. The impact of these achievements has been reduced by a continuing high rate of pupils dropping out of primary education compounded by a low quality of provision. There are also very large disparities linked to disability, location and income. To quote the 2009 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) that focuses on the problem of inequality, “too many children are receiving an education of such poor quality that they leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills”.

Even though primary school enrolment has continued to rise in Africa, many children are not making the transition to secondary school at typical ages and others drop out entirely. Less than half of primary school students progress to secondary school in 9 of the 38 countries for which data were available in 2007. Only five countries – Algeria, Botswana, Ghana, Seychelles and South Africa – have transition rates exceeding 90%. Following from this, enrolment in secondary education in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is not growing as quickly as that of primary education. Among the underlying reasons are the high cost of secondary education relative to primary, and the limited number of spaces in secondary schools.

Consistent with the low transition from primary to secondary education, the gross enrolment ratio in secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa was only 34% in 2008, up from 24% in 1999 (UNESCO, 2011). Also consistent with the low transition rate for girls to secondary education, there are more boys enrolled in secondary education than girls and in 2008 the Gender Parity Index (the ratio of females to males) in secondary education for sub-Saharan Africa was 0.79 (UNESCO, 2011). Various factors drive the low secondary education enrolment in Africa. For one, the cost of secondary schooling is often higher than that of primary schooling and therefore more difficult for families to afford. In addition, there is often conflict between educational aspirations and the potential income that could be earned by a working youth (UNICEF, 2011: 29). Furthermore, in some countries there simply are not enough places in secondary schools, resulting in authorities screening children through various methods such as primary school examinations (UNESCO, 2006).

Only 6% of the tertiary education age cohort was enrolled in tertiary institutions in 2007, compared with the global average of 26% (UNESCO, 2009). As with other levels of education, gender disparities in enrolment are also pronounced when tertiary enrolment statistics are explored in sub-Saharan Africa. Although sub-Saharan Africa had the largest magnitude of expansion at tertiary level during the last four decades, the region has the lowest rate of participation at this level.

It should also be noted that, in order to be competitive and have a chance of finding gainful employment at a national, regional or global level, African young people need to acquire knowledge and skills through basic and higher education, including technical and vocational training. Yet to this point, emphasis has been made on basic education, ignoring the importance of a strategically more meaningful and important Technical education. A critical analysis of the current education situation in the region has led stakeholders to believe that there seems to be an overemphasis on enrolment numbers rather than attendance and the relevance of education. Many African countries continue to over emphasise the provision of basic education in order to achieve the goal of universal primary education, forgetting that nurturing young people who will participate in the constantly evolving labour environment requires skills that can be acquired only at higher levels of learning.

Over the next few weeks, the thematic section will expand with the addition of information about the latest news and innovations taken by civil society, government, and grass-roots level activists in these sectors. Simply, our goal for this section is to ask ourselves: What is happening with youth iniatives in Africa and what innovations can we learn from? But, we need your help to make that a reality. If you come across some interesting news and information about health, employment, education, and access to technology and capital, please send an email here and we will get back to you.

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