Education stands as one of the most powerful drivers for constructing a future marked by peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, those children most in need of a good education often find themselves most vulnerable to disruptions, be they caused by conflict, climate crises, pandemics, or other crises.
In West and Central Africa, schools are often a target for militant groups, particularly in the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel. Across the Sahel region, 28 million children – or one out of three – are out of school, further fueling frustrations of young people and increasing risks of political instability in the region. Ten years have passed since the tragic 2014 Chibok girls’ kidnapping in Nigeria and many are still in captivity. Attacks on schools have continued to rise.
This is a region where seven out of ten people live in fragile settings and where about 8 out of 10 children are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. On average, only 59% of girls are enrolled in primary and secondary school in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries (FCV), compared to 78% in non-FCV countries in the region.
As we celebrate the International Day for Education under the theme of “Learning for lasting peace” and celebrate the Africa Union year of education, the urgency to invest in learning today for a better and more peaceful future for our children has never been more apparent. While across the region primary school enrollment is close to universal, more efforts are needed to reach sustainable development goal 4 by providing high-quality equitable education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The good news is that there is political will. The Accra call to Action on education adopted in June 2022 by more than forty ministers of finance and education was a wakeup call, and we are starting to see progress.
First, the number of girls in secondary school is on the rise. In Benin, the government has made upper secondary school education free for girls, starting in priority communes and now expanding across the nation. Nigeria is scaling up its Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) program to improve secondary education opportunities for 8.6 million girls. Since its launch in 2020, the number of girls in secondary schools has surged from about 900,000 to over 1.6 million.
Several World Bank education projects are committed to making schools safe for all. Nigeria and other countries are conducting communication campaigns on the importance of safe, enabling, and inclusive environments, and gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and mitigation.
Second, there is a growing emphasis on evidence-based interventions with a focus on learning outcomes. The Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project (GALOP) is an excellent example of how projects can leverage policy reforms and strategic leadership, two principles at the heart of the Western and Central Africa Education Strategy. More than 72,000 teachers have been trained to implement innovative teaching approaches in their classrooms and initial field data indicate that students in GALOP schools are proficient in foundational skills like reading and basic arithmetic.
Third, there is a concerted effort to strengthen young people’s skills and promote enrollment in tertiary education. Evidence suggests that each additional year of learning can lead to a 10% increase in earnings annually. Bridging the gap between the education young people receive in school and the requirements of the job market is crucial and we are witnessing innovative initiatives in this area that are beginning to yield positive results. For example, Benin focuses on making technical education and vocational training a powerful driver to transform the economy and enable the entrepreneurship ecosystem by providing post-secondary training programs to 13,000 students.
In a steadfast commitment to advancing higher education, the African Higher Education Centers of Excellence (ACE) program promotes women in science and support higher level skills development and innovative research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. To date, this program has supported more than 80 centers in 20 countries on the continent, and over 70,000 Masters, PhD and professional short-course students in agriculture, health, energy, and other sciences.
Responding to the scale of the learning crisis in the region, the World Bank has intensified its engagement across the region, increasing its education portfolio from US$ 5.3 billion in 2022 to US$ 7.9 billion in 2023. This underscores the Bank’s commitment to work with countries and partners in prioritizing the needs of young people. We must continue strengthening our education systems and leveraging all available tools to achieve greater impact in learning. Only then can we transform our nations and establish lasting peace.