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Sub-Saharan Africa has made great progress in education, but enormous challenges remain. Half of Africa's primary school-age children are not in school, and less than half of those entering first grade will complete their primary education. Many will drop out before they acquire minimal levels of literacy and numeracy.


Few Sub-Saharan countries have higher than 60 percent enrollment. In Ethiopia and Mali, school enrollment is below 30 percent. In most countries, far fewer girls enroll and stay in primary school than boys. In Benin, only 62 girls attend school for every 100 boys who are able to do so.

Adult literacy remains at about 50 percent in Africa, compared to 64 percent in Asia and 84 percent in Latin America.


The Role of U.S. Foreign Assistance

Investments in universal primary education have been widely recognized as a critical link to economic growth, reduction of poverty, improved health of women and their families and the enhanced status of women. Girls' education, in particular, is considered the most important investment a country can make to improve economic and social development. USAID works to ensure that developing countries give every child access to an effective primary education. USAID provides about 80 percent (an average of $65 million annually) of its basic education assistance to Africa.

One of the major constraints to improving education in Africa is lack of institutional capacity. In Ghana, the agency supported the government in restructuring its basic education program to emphasize decentralization. Included were support for community identification of education objectives and the use of fundamental quality-level indicators to monitor progress toward these objectives. Three other countries, Benin, Ethiopia and Guinea, adopted this model as a strategy for involving communities, improving accountability and increasing school effectiveness.

USAID support for primary education in Uganda exemplifies the powerful results that can be achieved through U.S. foreign assistance. By the end of the 1980s, Uganda's education system had collapsed from protracted civil strife and economic deterioration. Uganda had the lowest adult literacy rate in East Africa. More than half of teachers were untrained, school infrastructure had completely collapsed and public expenditure on education was minimal. Only 53 percent of school-age children were enrolled, and about 50 percent of enrollees dropped out before mastering basic literacy skills. In 1986, a new government came to power and created an economic rehabilitation agenda stressing the importance of education. Our assistance was designed to facilitate the government's efforts to decentralize resources, strengthen management at the district and school levels and improve student mastery of basic literacy and math skills.

As a result of this partnership, books are more available in Ugandan schools than anytime in the last 20 years. Over 4 million textbooks, teachers' guides and materials have been distributed to schools. Communities built more than 1,000 new classrooms in 1995 alone. 4,000 head teachers have received school management training, while over 10,000 teachers have benefited from refresher courses. When assistance began in 1991, teacher salaries were extremely low -- $8 a month. After only four years, the government met an early project condition requiring it to raise teacher salaries to the living wage over a 10-year period. Real teacher wages rose 900 percent. The government reduced the teaching force by 10,000 untrained teachers. Savings exceeded $1 million a year, and qualified teachers were distributed more equitably among rural and urban schools. The proportion of qualified teachers in the system has risen to more than 60 percent.

Recently, President Museveni made a bold announcement of Universal Primary Education in Uganda -- allowing free education for four children in every family. The primary school population of Uganda has nearly doubled -- to 5.3 million students -- with the vast majority of new students entering the first and second grades. Girls now outnumber boys in some schools.

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