Not enough children access education in Africa | Mission Direct

Not enough children access education in Africa

According to a recent UNICEF report* about education in Africa, 17% of primary aged children, 33% of lower secondary, and 53% of upper secondary children still cannot access any education. Out of those that do, only 33% in primary education, then 41% of those who start lower secondary, and then only 23% of those who start upper secondary education, complete it. As a result, according to UNICEF, 87% of ten-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa are unable to read a simple sentence and understand it. What makes this even more concerning is that UNICEF estimate that, due to the rapid population growth in Africa, 40% of all the worlds under 18s will live in Africa by the middle of the century. This means that if major progress to education access and retention are not achieved, a very large percentage of the world’s under 18s will be severely under educated. The consequences of this to world poverty, social instability, regional conflict and mass migration should be of great concern to all of us.

Mission Direct’s own experience backs these figures. The main causes for lack of access to education in our experience are:

  • A lack of schools in areas where the poor live
  • The inability of poor parents to pay for costs associated with education like school uniforms and books or to pay for exams
  • The overcrowded schools due to being oversubscribed, or due to lack of classrooms
  • The lack of teachers, or the difficulty to attract teachers to poor rural locations
  • Poverty related pressures forcing children to drop out of school to earn money or to work on their parent’s plot of land
  • The journey to school is too long or too dangerous
  • Sanitation issues due to lack of hygienic toilets or washing facilities

Some of our achievements in 2021 include:

  • Totally rebuilt a two-storey primary school in Cambodia because it regularly flooded
  • Teacher’s accommodation for 4 teachers and their families in Kumi, Uganda
  • Teacher’s accommodation for 5 teachers and their families in Rushararazi, Uganda – this is a very remote location
  • A classroom block, containing two classrooms in Lusaka, Zambia
  • A science lab for a school in Lusaka, Zambia
  • Regular school meals for over 1,400 children

When we partner with a school, we will build the following: classrooms, toilet blocks, science labs, computer labs, water harvesting and storage systems. These are our primary support to schools. We mainly work in African countries, but also work in Cambodia and the Dominican Republic.

The Kumbaya Primary School in Lusaka, Zambia, is an example of a school that Mission Direct helped to expand its capacity. When we started to work with this school it was a small, dilapidated building where 100s of children were crammed together. The head of the school was achieving great results but lacked the resources to expand the school. Mission Direct built several more classrooms and a toilet block to ensure the school could cater to different age groups and to help the school to provide hygienic facilities.

Another example is the Moyo Primary School in Malawi, which you can read about here, were we have started to build a new school to relieve the primary school in the next town, six miles away, which is so oversubscribed it has 250 children per class.

The following pictures show the construction of a classroom block, containing two classrooms and a storage room, at the Joshua Dhube School in Mutare, Manicaland, Zambia. We have built several of these blocks at this school, as well as three toilet blocks. We believe that this is the only school to have been built in Mutare, one of Zimbabwe’s biggest cities, in the last 20 years.

The need for classrooms is self-evident, but the schools can often be deprived of government recognition, although pupils can still sit exams, until the school has a science lab. The following photos show the science lab at the Garden Hill School, Lusaka, that we built. You can read more about the need for science labs here.

Once the school has government recognition, it can then get government funding and pay teachers a proper salary. The schools that do not have this recognition yet, typically pay teachers a quarter of the going rate due to lack of resources. This has a knock-on effect on recruitment and retention of teachers.

UNICEF estimate that 17 million more teachers need to be trained in Africa to achieve universal education by 2030. There is also a chronic lack of ongoing professional development for teachers. Therefore, when Mission Direct build a phase of a school’s construction, we are often able to send experienced UK teachers to provide training to the local teachers. We are currently in the process of planning a team of teachers to train phonics teaching as this isn’t included in the teacher training that some teachers receive in their countries but has been identified as being a key need, especially in countries where English is not the first language of much of the population, even if it is still an official language for the country.

A final obstacle for children accessing education is basic hunger. Many families can only afford a single meal a day, and this is often quite poor-quality food. Hungry children struggle to learn. Mission Direct funds several school meals programmes. These provide children with a nutritious porridge, made from the staple maize flour with added nutrients. For most of the children who attend school, this is a key meal for them. Without the meal, parents would be less inclined to send their children to school, and the children themselves would struggle to concentrate due to hunger.

The work that we do to support education is a drop in the ocean. It would be tempted to think “why bother?” However, Mission Direct believes in the value of helping each individual child. We may not be able to change the whole problem, but we can make a difference in the communities where we serve. Every child that successfully completes their education has the amazing opportunity to lift themselves, their families and sometimes their wider communities, out of poverty. Please consider supporting our work by making a donation today.

* UNICEF (2021) Transforming Education in Africa