Primary school students in sub-Saharan Africa face numerous challenges in their education, including overcrowded classrooms, too few trained teachers, insufficient schoolbooks and few toilets, often without separation between boys and girls, according to a United Nations survey.
In the first study of its kind, data was collected from 45 countries in the region for the survey, which was conducted by the Institute for Statistics of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
It found that a child in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to study in an overcrowded classroom that can number as many as 67 pupils in Chad, for example, compared to fewer than 30 in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Also, many classes in the region are multi-grade, grouping children of different levels of education, UNESCO stated in a news release. In most cases, classes tend to group two grades, but in Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali and Niger classes are reported to cover three or more grades.
“The first grades are usually the most overcrowded. This is a source of concern considering it has been established that these are the most crucial years for the future of pupils,” stated the agency.
In Madagascar, Rwanda, Chad and Togo, there are at least 20 more pupils on average in the first grade than in the last. In Chad, first year classes number an average of 85 students.
“The situation found in Chad is of particular concern, since studies have shown that in the African context, classes exceeding 70 pupils have a negative effect on children’s learning,” according to the survey.
The survey also found that more than two million additional teachers will have to be recruited to meet growing demand in the region and replace teachers who retire or leave education.
In addition, the survey highlighted the insufficient supply of reading and mathematics textbooks which obliges pupils to share books. The situation is particularly bad in the Central African Republic, where eight pupils must share one reading and mathematics textbook. In Cameroon, there is on average one reading textbook for 11 pupils and one mathematics book for 13 children.
Another problem is that many schools in sub-Saharan Africa have limited, or no, access to basic services such as drinking water, toilets and electricity. The absence of clean, safe and separate toilets for boys and girls tends to discourage children, particularly girls, from attending school regularly, the survey added.
Shortages are particularly severe in five countries – Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger where at least 60 per cent of schools have no toilets. Schools in Mauritius and Rwanda, meanwhile, are well equipped with separate-sex toilets.
The survey also noted the fact that most primary schools are not connected to the electric grid. In Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gambia, Guinea, Malawi, Niger and Togo, 80 per cent of school have no electricity.