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FEATURE STORYJanuary 19, 2023

Yearning for Learning: 7 Lessons from Western and Central Africa

Washington, January 20, 2023 - Success for young girls in West and Central Africa like in the story of Ama starts in primary school where good teachers and good conditions can help them focus on learning. Providing training and resources for teachers, having regular learning assessments, but also good roads to facilitate school transport, clean water and toilets at school, and school feeding programs are proven interventions to help improve learning outcomes.

As the World celebrates International Education Day, investing in young people and making education a priority matter more than ever. Here are seven key lessons from Western and Central African countries from the regional education strategy to help girls and boys get ready to learn, acquire real knowledge, and enter the job market with the right skills to become productive and fulfilled citizens:

1 - Recognize previous gains

Average net primary school enrollment in Western and Central Africa is close to universal, rising from 50% in the 1990s to nearly 90% today. Secondary enrollment in the last decade more than doubled to a current average of 55%.

Education in Western and Central Africa

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the education crisis in the region and millions of children could not go to school or access distance learning, significant efforts have been made in educating young African girls and boys over the last decades. But there is more to do to further advance education reforms.

“With close to universal access in the primary cycle, the progress made is dazzling. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that this success is relative, as it is more quantitative than qualitative. There still is a long way to go,” says World Bank Regional Vice-President for Western and Central Africa Ousmane Diagana.

2 – Transforming Education = Addressing Learning Poverty

Education in Western and Central Africa

Despite progress, 8 out of 10 children in Western and Central Africa are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10, and more than 32 million children remain out of school -  the largest share of all regions worldwide. Weak foundations in childhood continue into adulthood: heavy school drop-out, limited social advancement, and a low-qualified workforce are the consequences of learning poverty. Transforming education means the government taking action to end learning poverty

3 - Leadership for impact: Countries learn from their own experiences 

Education in Western and Central Africa
Before school in the morning. Kankan city, Guinea. Photo credit: Vincent Tremeau /World Bank

Tackling the learning crisis requires strong leadership, better implementation, and more investments in high-impact interventions, including a whole-of-society and government approach. Governments can learn from such interventions, expand, and adapt them to local contexts. 

In Chad, a mobile payment system for the remuneration of community teachers improved their attendance record, while enhancing their commitment. In Mauritania, the establishment of school management committees increased parent involvement. Mali increased secondary school enrollment 2.5 times since 2000 thanks to a dynamic public-private partnership model. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sierra Leone offered free lessons through radio, television, phones, and online. In Senegal, the Improving Quality and Equity of Basic Education project has helped Koranic schools, or daaras, provide foundational skills to pupils. In addition, the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence project is training post-graduate students and scaling up research capacity and regional collaboration in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, to address the widespread skills shortages.

These examples show that countries can take action and turn this learning crisis into an opportunity for building a better future.

4 – For the Sahel region, education offers a path to peace, and equitable and inclusive growth. 

Education is a key driver of stability, social cohesion, and peace. In the face of growing uncertainty, young people live in areas where climate shocks prevent them from farming as they did before, and many turn to the call of the terrorists. Empowering the youth with the right skills and giving them job opportunities is essential to realize their full potential and ensure social justice for all. The Sahel countries and partners, such as the Sahel Alliance, are taking important steps to roll out an education roadmap as a game-changer over the next 10 years.

In the 2021 Nouakchott declaration, the G5 leaders committed to developing innovative policies to improve quality education by boosting support to teachers and increasing education expenditure beyond the 3 percent of GDP currently allocated to this area.

5 – Harness the power of technology

Education in Western and Central Africa
Adesuwa, a school boy at George Idah Primary School in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. © Sanumioluwa Modupe Dawodu, World Bank

Technology can play a crucial role in providing new and innovative forms of support to teachers, students, and the broader learning process while also enhancing the equity, quality, resiliency, and efficiency of education systems.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, millions of students were affected by school closures. In Nigeria, Edo state saw an opportunity to further the development of its digital education drive and used WhatsApp, among other platforms, to organize e-classes. Through its EdoBEST initiative, more than 11,000 teachers received rigorous training and 7,000 virtual classrooms were created, in a whole system reform to leverage modern digital technologies backed by science to improve teaching and learning processes. 

6 - Putting young people first

“Putting our young people first is at the heart of our work. Even before the pandemic, the world was already experiencing a learning crisis. The future of any society lies in its ability to provide its children and youth with the tools and opportunities to flourish, and to contribute to the development of the country,” said Ousmane Diagana.

The #YouthActOnEDU Spoken Word Competition mobilized youths on the Education matter and showcased the importance of education and access to quality learning. Meet, watch, and listen to the winners from across the AFW region.

Youth Act on EDU

7 - A strong political commitment

Leaders from across Western and Central Africa endorsed the Accra Urgent Call for Action on Education in June 2022 to meet ambitious targets with a focus on :

  • helping 30 million children to read by 2030;
  • ensuring that 12.5 million more adolescent girls are in school by 2030;
  • training 3.7 million more young adults in foundational skills by 2025;
  • ensuring that 1 million more youth acquire digital skills by 2025, of whom 60% are expected to obtain better jobs.

Ministerial Meeting on Education for Western and Central Africa

REPLAY: From School to Jobs: Journey for young people of Western and Central Africa



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