Ahead of the Day of the African Child, UNICEF says African governments still not spending what they need to secure quality education for the continent’s children.

Less than 1 in 5 African countries reaching benchmark on education financing

13 June 2024
children
©UNICEF CAR/202/Algoni

AMMAN / DAKAR / JOHANNESBURG / NAIROBI, 13 June 2024 - In the lead up to Sunday's Day of the African Child, themed this year on “Education for all children in Africa: the time is now”, UNICEF is releasing new education financing analyses that show most African countries are not meeting their commitments to allocate the 20 per cent of their national budget benchmark on education, as recommended by the Sustainable Development Goal framework for action for education.

Nine out of 49 African countries - less than 1 in 5 - dedicated 20 per cent or more of their public spending to education, whilst 24 committed at least 15 per cent, and six countries directed less than 10 per cent.

Education is key for building human capital for prosperity on the continent. Financing is a major issue across Africa, leaving millions of children unable to acquire the foundational skills needed for them and their countries to thrive in the future. Despite considerable progress made by African Governments in boosting primary and lower secondary enrolment over the past decade, schools are underfunded, classrooms overcrowded and there are insufficient teachers, many without adequate training and competencies.

Low learning outcomes remain a great concern with four in every five children aged 10 years old in Africa unable to read and understand a simple story. As the African Union celebrates 2024 as the Year of Education, evidence shows that:

  • Approximately US $183 billion is needed for children’s education in African countries annually to reach Sustainable Development Goals on education, while available resources stand at $106 billion, leaving a financing gap of over 40 per cent;
  • Governments in Africa spend around two per cent of their education budgets on pre-primary education, while 20 per cent goes to tertiary on average. 13 out of 40 governments with available data invested no resources in pre-primary education while tertiary education continues to be overprioritized;
  • As of 2022, spending on education is on average below pre-pandemic levels and on par with levels from a decade ago. COVID-19 caused a significant decline in education spending across the continent with real per capita education expenditure in 2022 equalling levels seen in 2012/13.

The need for investment will only escalate in order to meet the requirements of a fast-growing, school-aged population, as it is estimated that the continent will be home to 1 billion children by 2050. Without urgent attention, the huge lack of financing for education will be catastrophic for a generation of students and the future economic growth and stability of the region.

“Children have the right to quality education, but education systems are failing far too many of them. To ensure prosperity in Africa we urgently need to see a continental revolution where commitments are turned into concrete action so children can attain the vital foundational skills necessary for them to progress to higher forms of education and realize their full potential,” says Etleva Kadilli, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

One of the most impactful and cost-effective ways forward is to increase public investment in the early years, as studies confirm that pre-primary investments are among the most powerful governments can support. And yet early childhood education continues to see the smallest budget share. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 years might seem like they are only just beginning life’s journey, but by this time more than 85 per cent of their brain development is already nearly in place. Hence the importance of investing early, to give them a chance of the best start in life.

“Over 100 million primary- and secondary-school age children are out of school in Africa. Every child should get the support they need – in learning, building relevant skills, and accessing work and other opportunities – to meet their full potential and to contribute to building an inclusive, productive and peaceful continent. Making such progress requires investing in human capital and advancing accessible, inclusive, affordable and relevant learning opportunities for all African children and young people,” adds Gilles Fagninou, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“Across Africa children, young people and their school communities are affected by emergencies, both natural and manmade. It is important for leaders, decision makers and communities themselves to focus on building resilient and inclusive education systems at every level that can effectively support the continuity of learning, even in emergencies and especially for the most vulnerable learners. The continent and its children cannot afford any further learning loss,” notes Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Tomorrow, on Friday 14 June, the African Union Commission is holding an event on education to commemorate the Day of the African Child 2024. During this event, UNICEF will launch a call on African Union Member States to prioritize pre-primary and foundational learning for every child and swiftly implement the following key actions:

  • Re-commit to making education a budget priority and reach the recommended benchmark of 20 per cent annual spending on education by 2025. 
  • Increase budgetary attention to early learning and commit to allocating at least 10 per cent of education budgets to pre-primary education. 
  • Leverage international public and private resources, including concessional loans and grants from international financial institutions, innovative financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships. Converting and spending Special Drawing Rights and negotiating for debt relief that directly benefits education or other avenues for restructuring debt could free up large resources for education.
  • Enhance transparency and accountability in planning, budgeting and management of education systems.
  • Enhance the effectiveness of budget allocations including addressing inefficiencies throughout the spending chain on education.
  • Invest more in teachers and develop clear plans for funding recruitment, retention and professional development. 
  • Improve equity of education spending and service delivery and ensure no child is left behind in accessing quality learning.

ENDS

Media contacts

Salwa Moussa
Chief of Advocacy & Communication
UNICEF Central African Republic
Tel: +236 70 00 97 06

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org

Follow UNICEF on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube

About the Day of the African Child

The Day of the African Child is a commemoration of the Soweto Uprising in 1976, when students protested against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime. Initiated by the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) it is celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991.

The theme for the Day of the African Child in 2024 is “Education for all children in Africa: the time is now”, aligning with the African Union’s Year of Education which focuses on building resilient education systems to ensure increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality and relevant learning in Africa.