Half of Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa Are Out of School

July 15, 2015


Story Highlights
  • Around 89 million youth, ages 12-24 years, are out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • A new World Bank report examines factors that lead to 12 to 24 year olds dropping out. It highlights six characteristics of out-of-school youth.
  • Three policy entry points are particularly important to keep youth in school: retention of at-risk youth in school, remediation through alternative education, and integration with the labor market.

July 15, 2015--- Moussa, 19, never went to school.  She would like her three children to attend school but there isn’t one close enough to her village in Jangaba, Liberia. Alphanso, 25, studied up to ninth grade but dropped out during the war. He buys and sells in the informal market and also washes cars to make a living. He earns enough to get by but is worried that he would not be able to provide for his four children if they fall ill.

Beyond the borders of Liberia, the stories of Moussa and Alphanso are echoed in the fates of 89 million out-of-school youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s nearly half of all youth in the continent. Even more dauntingly, in the next decade, an estimated 40 million more youth are expected to drop out and face an uncertain future due to inadequate skills.

While East Asian countries turned their youth bulges into an engine for growth, the same phenomenon is spelling out a potentially explosive economic and social challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Characteristics of out-of-school youth

The World Bank’s Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Policy Perspective report examines factors that lead to 12 to 24 year olds dropping out. It highlights six characteristics of out-of-school youth, whose importance varies across and within countries:

  • Most out-of-school youth drop out before secondary school and many never set foot in a school;
  • The prospect of an early marriage is a key barrier to young females’ education and affects girls’ schooling even before they get married;  
  • Rural youth are more likely to be excluded from education than urban youth, and most of them work;
  • Parental education is the single most important determinant of youth’s education outcomes;
  • The number of working adults in a household matter a great deal for schooling choices and school/work decisions; and
  • Lack of formal schools and low educational quality are binding constraints to improving enrollment and retention of students.

How to address the out-of-school youth problem

Three policy entry points are particularly important to address these key factors: retention of at-risk youth in school, remediation through alternative education, and integration with the labor market.  This framework allows policy recommendations to be tailored according to a given subgroup of youth, across different countries, and for short-term and longer-term impact.

Retention could be improved through greater early intervention to get children enrolled at the right age, a renewed focus on improving the quality of primary education, expansion of secondary education, with support from the private sector, a greater awareness for the importance of education, especially for girls and rural youth and, as needed, cash incentives.

Remediation requires reliable and longer-term funding for successful alternative programs, a greater recognition that youth must work to survive, and large-scale coordinated interventions for youth in conflict areas. 

Finally, labor market integration requires- among other factors- better impact evaluations and longevity of effective workforce development programs, coordinated action between government actors, regional entities, NGOs and the productive sector, and removal of legal and institutional barriers to financing for youth enterprises.

How to put this strategy into practice

Out-of-school youth are policy orphans who fall under the charge of multiple government agencies.  For example, school retention involves education ministries and other ministries for social services, while alternative education and workforce development also involve technical vocational education and training agencies and labor ministries. 

The international community could make a difference by promoting out-of-school youth as a single-issue area, looking for coordination, and developing holistic programs that consider the constraints that youth face.  

One such program can be found in Mali where, after the 2012 political and security crisis, many youth with no or very limited skills found themselves in a situation with even more limited prospects of productive employment.

To respond to those challenges, the government and the World Bank worked together to design and launch a comprehensive workforce development and entrepreneurship program to provide literacy, technical and entrepreneurship skills, complemented by additional job-creation incentives, to over 30,000 poor and vulnerable youth in urban and rural areas.