Between 1999 and 2008, enrolment ratios for primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa rose by nearly one-third in spite of a big increase in the school-age population. There was a narrowing in gender gaps at the primary level and the number of children moving from primary school to secondary education also increased. However, the region was still home to 43 percent of the world?s children who do not attend school, levels of learning achievements remained low, and the learning needs of young children, adolescents and adults continued to be neglected.
According to UNESCO's 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, in 2008, almost 11 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were enrolled in pre-primary education, 4.6 million more than in 1999. However, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in the region was just 17 percent, indicating that the majority of children were still excluded from pre-primary education. Progress in increasing enrolment also varied from country to country in the region.
The number of children enrolled in primary education in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 46 million between 1999 and 2008. The region's primary adjusted net enrolment ratio (ANER) in 2008 was 77 percent, more than 30 percentage points higher than in 1999. Almost 29 million children of primary school age in the region, 54 percent of them girls, were not enrolled in school in 2008, 13 million less than in 1999. However, in 2008, only 56 percent of children started school at the official primary school age and just 70 percent stayed in school to the last grade in 2007.
Secondary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa increased at the most rapid rate in the world between 1999 and 2008. However, because of population growth, the number of adolescents outside the education system was little changed in the period. In 2008, one-third of children in the region participated in secondary education, indicating that the needs of many remained unmet.
In 2008, 4.5 million students were enrolled in tertiary education, twice as many as in 1999. However, the tertiary GER in the region was still only 6 percent, compared with the world average of 26 percent. The gap between sub-Saharan Africa and other regions had also widened.
With education remaining out of reach for a large part of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of adult illiterates in the region continued to rise. In 2008, the number of illiterate adults exceeded 167 million, or 38 percent of the adult population. The average adult literacy rate increased to 62 percent in the period 2005 to 2008, up from 53 percent in 1985 to 1994, but the growth was too slow to counteract the impact of the rapidly growing population. As a result, the absolute number of illiterate adults rose by 25 percent.
There were still marked gender disparities in adult literacy. On average, literacy rates among women were 75 percent the level of those among men in 2008. In 14 countries, female adult literacy was less than two-thirds the level for men, with patterns of literacy strongly related to wealth and household location. According to the 2007 assessment in 14 countries by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality, there was a significant improvement in learning achievement levels in seven countries. Test scores were little changed in five countries, where learning achievements remained at 2000 levels, and only two countries registered declines in mathematics scores.
The commitment to education increased between 1999 and 2008 in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa in which economic growth accelerated in the period. The share of national income invested in education was 4.0 percent in 2008, up from 3.5 percent in 1999, but there were big variations across countries in the region. International aid to the region for education declined by 1 percent between 2007 and 2008.