Education Opinions

Private sector essential to meet education for all goal

Private sector essential to meet education for all goal
  • PublishedJanuary 22, 2024

The SDG goal of providing quality education for all by 2030 will be impossible to achieve in Africa unless non-state actors work hand in glove with official education institutions.

We agree with the United Nations when it says that education systems must be re-imagined and that education finance should be a priority for every national government to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). It is imperative that all children have access to quality education. To do this, we must recognize all credible school models.

There have been successes to celebrate in education in Africa. Primary enrollment in sub-Saharan African countries has increased from 80% in 2000 to 99% in 2023. However, this increase in enrollment has not translated into better learning outcomes, and with setbacks spanning from a global health pandemic to regional conflicts, it is clear that the world is not yet on track to meet SDG 4 by 2030.

SDG 4 is one of 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals objectives set by the United Nations  in 2015 to bring about peace and prosperity for all people on the planet. SDG 4 aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

Adopting an ‘all hands on deck’ approach through coordination, collaboration, and partnerships seems the best way forward.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s child population is the fastest growing in the world. UNICEF and African Union forecast that this region will see the highest birth rate through the end of this century. #

This will place immense pressure on national education systems and, as we know from experience, state education alone cannot manage this demand.

Recognizing the contributions of education providers from the affordable non-state sector (ANS) is the first hurdle to overcome. Collaboratively working with them to create impact is the second.

UNESCO estimates that a further 15m trained teachers will be needed to meet education goals across sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

This is set against the backdrop of burgeoning classroom sizes, with the pupil-teacher ratio stubbornly imbalanced. Growing demand from African communities is the primary cause of this, and it is worth acknowledging that most governments in the region cannot yet adequately finance and support public schools to scale this ratio to a more manageable place that doesn’t compromise on learning quality. The ANS can alleviate this pressure.

20m Nigerian children have no education

Nigeria, where SEED Care & Support Foundation is based, has consistently ranked as one of the countries with the highest rate of out-of-school children in the world, with an estimated 20m children not in educational settings as of 2022.

In response, low-fee private schools (LFPS), the largest subset of schools within the ANS, have grown as an organic community response to over-stretched state education.

SEED was born out of a willingness to improve education outcomes within Lagos State. It began as a project supported by the UK-funded DEEPEN program in Nigeria before evolving into a locally-managed charity supporting affordable non-state schools.

According to state officials, Lagos State is now mainly served by non-state schools, with these schools outnumbering state schools by 22 to 1.

Engagement between the Nigerian government and the ANS has evolved because of the educational needs of children, as well as the efforts among ANS actors, such as SEED, to collectively represent themselves in a coherent way. It has placed the ANS on a good footing with education policymakers; low-fee private schools contributions are recognized by the government more than in most other countries.

The relationship between the ANS and the state is still not perfect, but genuine collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Basic & Secondary Education has created supportive regulation.

Compared to the rest of the country, Lagos State has strong education outcomes, with 97% enrollment rates according to the 2017/2018 LEARNigeria survey. SEED’s work in Nigeria has shown that governments can better integrate alternative provisions into education systems to produce improved enrollment and learning.

A similar situation can also be seen in Ghana, with the International Finance Corporation estimating that 40% of schools are non-state and the number of children enrolling increasing each year.

Kasoa, a rapidly urbanizing area just outside Accra, is predominantly served by non-state schools with 83% of households having at least one child enrolled in a low-fee private school.

For 15 years, IDP Foundation (IDPF) has worked in Ghana to build education capacity through its Rising Schools Program. Throughout this timeframe, IDPF has also supported the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) to engage with the government in a more constructive way to support educational provision across the country.

Effective collaboration with the Ghanaian government has yielded positive results for education in the country. LFPS were included in the National Standardized Test, an initiative by the Ministry of Education, to evaluate pupils’ proficiency in English and Mathematics, offering valuable insights into the coverage of approved curricula.

LFPS students were not previously included in this testing initiative, showing that it is only through better collaboration that improved quality of learning and standardised teaching can be rolled out to all children.

Collaborative delivery on education

We often hear from stakeholders in the ANS that because LFPS are funded by tuition fees, their needs are ignored, despite their vital contributions to education.

However, many LFPS generally cater to families in the lower socioeconomic quintiles, often serving as the only option for children to access education. Disenfranchising the ANS, which supports almost one in three children globally, could cause long-term harm to the educational prospects of vulnerable communities.

When we work together, both state and non-state providers of education can make a difference in learning outcomes. We ask that governments do more than just recognize their existence; we ask them to see value in getting all hands on deck and giving the ANS a seat at the table for national education systems planning. Only then can we hope to achieve SDG 4 by 2030.


Background and biographies

This op-ed was inspired by a fireside webinar hosted by IDP Foundation in late 2023 which Olanrewaju participated in as a speaker, with the discussion moderated by Stephen Caleb Opuni.


Written By
Olanrewaju Oniyitan and Stephen Caleb Opuni

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