publication March 5, 2018

Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa

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1Cover Design and Image: Bill Pragluski, of Critical Stages LLC.


  • Africa has made considerable progress in boosting primary and lower secondary school enrollment, but some 50 million children remain out of school, and most of those who attend school are not acquiring the basic skills necessary for success later in life.
  • Learning levels across the region are alarmingly low. Among second grade students assessed on numeracy tests in several Sub-Saharan African countries, three-quarters could not count beyond 80 and 40 percent could not do a one-digit addition problem. In reading, between 50 and 80 percent of children in second grade could not answer a single question based on a short passage they had read, and a large proportion could not read even a single word.

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  • “Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa” lays out a range of policy and implementation actions that are needed for countries in the region to meet the challenge of improving learning while expanding access and completion of basic education for all. 
  • The study underscores the importance of aligning the education system to be relentlessly focused on learning outcomes and to ensuring that all children have access to good schools, good learning materials and good teachers. 
  • It is unique in characterizing countries according to the challenges they faced in the 1990s and the educational progress they have made over the past 25 years, allowing countries in the region to learn from each other.
  • The authors review the global literature and add to it by their extensive new analyses of multiple datasets from over three dozen countries in the region; they integrate findings about what affects children’s learning, access to schooling and progress through basic education.
  • The study draws lessons—from the region and for the region—about “what works” to boost learning and what is needed for better implementation of what is known to have worked.
  • It lays out concrete steps in four priority areas:
    1. Providing universal basic education with a focus on equitable access, quality and retention
    2. Ensuring effective management and support of teachers
    3. Increasing financing for quality education
    4. Boosting institutional capacity
  • The study concludes with an assessment of how future educational progress may be affected by projected fertility rates and economic growth.

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