Report: British aid to Nigerian schools is not helping

The United Kingdom has poured millions into Nigerian school, but an independent group found that money has failed to improve education in the country.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact concluded in a recent report that:

[The government’s] education programme in Nigeria operates in a very challenging environment, with too few effective teachers, poor infrastructure and unpredictable State funding, all contributing to poor learning outcomes for pupils in basic education. Our review indicates no major improvement in pupil learning. Expectations continue to be modest with no likelihood of Nigeria meeting its Millennium Development Goal for primary education.”

The United Kingdom has already given £102 million (about $162 million) across 10 Nigerian states. Another £126 million (about $200 million) is pledged through 2019, according to the BBC.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for International Development told the BBC that report had a narrow focus, but the department would “carefully review the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.”

Half of sub-Saharan Africa’s children don’t learn basic skills

Seventeen million children in sub-Saharan Africa never go to school. Of the 111 million that do, 40.6 million won’t even learn basic skills, according to the African Learning Barometer. This means that half of Africa’s children will reach adolescence illiterate and innumerate, the Barometer finds.

The interactive tool, put out by the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, examines Africa’s educational shortcomings in school enrollment, completion and quality. Using existing assessments, Brookings developed a baseline, below which students “were learning so little that they had no value added to their education,” report co-author Justin Van Fleet wrote in a blog. “While these tests do not even begin to scratch the surface on the values, knowledge and skills that children should learn in school to live healthy, productive lives, they do provide some basic indications about the state of learning in the region.”

The African Learning Barometer reveals some deep educational inequalities among income levels, Van Fleet says:

Looking at the rates of extreme education poverty in the region, the percentage of adults with less than two years of education show the disadvantages that poor, rural students face in accessing education in comparison to their rich and urban counterparts. For instance, in Ethiopia, 68.3 percent of the poorest quintile of the population lives in education poverty, compared to only 13.8 percent of the richest.

While there is much reason to celebrate the progress in education that Africa has made over the past decade, the barometer shows us that there is a deeper learning crisis that needs to be addressed.

Tags: Africa

"Today I apologize to the youth of the world. My generation has betrayed the dreams, aspirations and future that you have a right to. Our education deepens social inequality. The overwhelming majority of young people in South African townships and rural areas sit in over-crowded classrooms, without textbooks, laboratories, libraries, sports facilities and properly qualified teachers. Generations of young people will leave school after 12 years with few skills, no jobs and unlikely to have the human dignity of a decent job in their lifetime."

Jayaseelan Naidoo, former anti-apartheid activist and chairman of GAIN, a global group focused on hunger and malnutrition 

Pearson’s newest investment: African private schools

For-profit education company Pearson is investing $15 million into a fund for private companies running schools in “Africa, Asia and elsewhere,” the company announced this week. 

First on the list of recipients is Omega Schools, a chain of for-profit schools in Ghana. Pearson’s money is expected to help the network expand from 6,000 students to tens of thousands. 

"The Fund’s launch underlines Pearson’s commitment to experimentation to tackle access to and effectiveness of education where it is now absent," Pearson said in statement, noting that the investments would help the world achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Among these goals, for which the agreed upon deadline is 2015, is achieving universal primary education. 

Other’s aren’t so sure, pointing to evidence that school attendance has increased dramatically in some countries once public school fees are abolished. 

"To suggest somehow that supporting low-cost private schools would boost school attendance flies in the face of the evidence," David Archer, head of programme development at ActionAid, told The Guardian, adding that girls would also lose out if schools started charging. “It’s ironic at a time when girls are a priority in primary education, as this kind of initiative will almost certainly discourage girl attendance.”

Tags: Africa

One-to-one Kindle program grows in Africa

A San Francisco-based nonprofit is doling our eReaders to some African schools as part of an larger international effort to help third world countries improve literacy through technology, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Worldreader, with about $1.5 million in donations, has given out 1,100 Kindles and 180,000 e-books, schools in Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. So far, they’ve been well received by pupils and teachers. There are cultural benefits as well. 

"The first books we got were mainly about the U.S., with kids playing in ice—which our pupils would not understand," Ester Nabwire, the head teacher at Humble Primary School in Mukono, Uganda told the Journal. "With the Kindles, there are African authors, African names which are exciting the kids."

In Ghana, primary school students who got Kindles did improve their performance on standardize reading tests from 13 percent to 16 percent. But, much like with the One Laptop per Child initiative, which also focuses on introducing technology to undeveloped countries, there’s no guarantee that putting technology into students hand’s will make any difference. And, the Journal explains, it may not be the most cost effective option: 

Getting an e-book into the hands of one of Worldreader’s kids costs about $5 per title. That includes the approximately $100 price of the Kindle, which Worldreader gets as donations or buys from Amazon at wholesale, a protective case, training and support materials, and other overhead costs. Worldreader gets e-books from the public domain or donations from publishers, or by digitally publishing work by local authors.

By comparison, Room to Read, a 12-year-old nonprofit that builds libraries for elementary schools, says it can print and deliver one of its own books to a school for about $1 per book in Africa. In Asia, where it has the most programs, only 30% of the cost of establishing a library involves printing and distributing books, while the rest goes toward furniture, training teachers and monitoring to make sure the books are getting used.

Tags: Africa

"For how long will the poor pupils from Limpopo be taught under trees in this cold weather Minister?"

— tweet from South African Karabo Mokoena one of the many who took to Twitter yesterday trying to get the attention of Minster of Basic Education Angie Motshekga with the hashtag #Questions4Motshekga

"Technology is the key to bridging the gap between the state of education in Africa today and what it has the potential to be."

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a debate among ministers of education and science and technology from 10 African countries

Tags: Africa

"When you walk in to [a university admissions] office, they tell you, ‘Go and get a note from a senator. Go and bring a note from a minister, or some director or go bring 150,000 [Nigerian naira]. A poor man like me. What do you expect me to do? I don’t know anybody. I don’t have money."

Hamzat Lawal, a political science student at Nigeria’s University of Abuja quoted in the Global Post. With too few seats for all the students who want to go to college in Nigeria, bribes to universities are becoming a de facto part of the admissions process. It took Lawal four years to get into school, despite getting passing grades on college admissions tests. 

Tags: Nigeria Africa

"I’m lucky to work at a university which attracts the best students in South Africa, but, even so, many first-year students aren’t properly prepared. Here and at other universities, academics have to make up for the poor preparation for tertiary education in schools. I feel strongly that a lot of students shouldn’t be at university in the first place – that they should have gone on to further education and training (FET) colleges where they would have received an education more narrowly focused on preparing them for the job market. The crux of the issue is that despite the fact there are about 600,000 unemployed graduates in South Africa, university education is seen as the only pathway to employment. I would rather the department of higher education and training invested in FET colleges – expanding access to their campuses, improving the quality of their diplomas, and providing scholarships to those who can’t afford tuition fees."

— Sarah Emily Duff, an postdoctoral research fellow at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, makes “the case for vocational training" at The Guardian. 

"I recall vividly my early school days: I would go to school every day and would stay home on weekends, when I would play games with the kids in my neighborhood. The most spectacular of these was the “throwing game.” In this game, we would collect heaps of small stones and throw them away in turns. We would declare the person who could throw furthest the winner. We would also allocate several levels of education to the various points where our stones would fall. We called the furthest possible point ‘Makerere,’ which to us meant University, and I would always strive to hit at that point… Luckily enough, I have managed to climb the ladder of education, moving from primary school to secondary school and now to college! When I look back at my playmates, many of them are out of school and have turned into illiterate men and women: squandered human resource. This is not because they lacked the ability to learn, but because they did not have the opportunity to get a decent education."

Akandwahano Dominic, a Ugandan student at Yale University and recipient of a Kasiisi Project Scholarship

Tags: Uganda Africa