Education Exclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa: a Report from UNESCO & How To Improve It

For decades, international organizations and governments have struggled to bring education to the African continent. However, regardless of the resources deployed or the programs implemented, one thing is clear – a huge number of children remain out of school. The article begins with an elusive statistic: 246 million children are not in school. You may wonder what could be the cause of such a problem, but it is actually due to a number of factors – poverty, location, gender, conflict…just to name a few.

Exclusion from education in Sub-Saharan Africa

According to UNESCO: Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. According to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school. Millions of children in Saharan Africa are currently not in school and there is no sign that this problem will be solved in the foreseeable future. Their exclusion from the formal education system leaves them vulnerable to high illiteracy rates and child labor, which can lead to unstable family lives and poverty.

Causes of Education Exclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Several factors have contributed to the crisis of educational exclusion in Saharan Africa. The first is extreme poverty, which has created a wide gap between rich and poor – this gap is so wide that it is difficult for the poor to access education. A second factor, illiteracy, is as widespread as extreme poverty in countries in Saharan Africa. Illiteracy often leads to not going to school because one cannot read and write, but also because without building basic skills, learning becomes impossible even if one does attend school. The third factor that contributes to educational exclusion is the lack of infrastructure. UNESCO also believes that without urgent action, the situation will likely get worse as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population.

Solutions to the silent crisis

Developing strong education systems in African countries is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality that has plagued these regions for decades. If we want to transform Africa’s future, we must invest in its children. The more opportunities a country can offer a child, the more they will be able to provide for themselves and their families.
Education in Africa is a major priority for UNESCO and the UIS. In response, the UIS develops indicators to help governments, donors and UN partners better address the challenges. For example, the UIS tracks the extent to which schools lack basic amenities, such as access to electricity and potable water, while monitoring classroom conditions – from the availability of textbooks to average class sizes and the prevalence of multi-grade classrooms. With seven out of ten countries facing an acute shortage of teachers, the Institute also produces a range of data on their training, recruitment and working conditions.


Without the right investments in children’s education, we will condemn millions more young people to poverty and exclusion. UNESCO also states that to help policymakers bridge this gender gap, the UIS disaggregates all indicators by sex to the extent possible, while producing gender parity indices and developing specific indicators related to access to separate toilets for girls and boys and the presence of female teachers, who can serve as role models and encourage girls to continue their education.

For more articles on Thought Leadership for Sub-Saharan Africa, visit our website at A Little progress each day adds up to Big Results. To make an impact on this Planet, we need to instill an active approach towards Education as one of our core responsibilities.


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