The Education of Africa South of the Sahara: A Comparative Analysis of Private and Public Education

Article excerpt


There is a growing recognition among nations in Africa south of the Sahara that education is a critical weapon for bringing sustainable development to their respective countries and to the continent as a whole. Pursuant to this goal, most nations in the region made a significant effort to promote education mainly in the years that followed their independence from colonial powers (Kitaev, 1999). This commitment was expressed through the allocation of significant resources as well as through the development of policies and strategies for the expansion of education (Dinavo, 1995).

However, in many parts of the region, the policies devised for the promotion of education after independence suffer from the effects of state monopoly either minimizing or excluding the private sector from the provision of education. The assumption after independence was that education is too critical for national development especially for maintaining national unity and the promotion of official language and culture; therefore, the private education was seen as incompatible with the objectives of these young nations (Cutter, 2001).

It is only in the 1980s onwards that most African governments came out of their euphoria and started to realize the limitations of public monopoly in the provision of education, hence, several factors contributed to this awareness.

First, despite committing significant resources, the governments could not increase public resources, in part because of continuing demographic growth (Dinavo, 1995; Peano, 1997). As a result, attaining universal primary education, which state governments promised after their independence, became only a deceptive reality.

Second, the challenge of promoting education in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s was further frustrated by worldwide socio-economic developments. The 1980s and 1990s saw an emphasis on increasing the role of market by reducing that of the state in various sectors of public activities, including education, thereby tolerating parent/community financing of education, among other things (Bray, 1996; Dinavo, 1995; Murphy 1996).

Third, there have been amendments to the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights (UN). Hence, Article 26 of the declaration states that "education shall be free, at least in elementary and fundamental stages" indisputably, in Africa south of the Sahara moving the cost to state governments. But later declarations and conferences attempt to expose the limitations of public monopoly in the provision of education, suggesting the need for alternative schemes (Bray, 1996a). Thus, the World Conference of Education in Jomtien (Thailand) (1990) is instructive in this regard; the Conference argued that while basic education should be a priority of public spending, public funding alone is insufficient to guarantee the required access and coverage of the school age population of adequate learning conditions and quality education. Bray (1996a: 4) quotes Article 7 of this Declaration:

National, regional, and local educational authorities have a unique obligation to provide basic education for all, but they cannot be expected to supply every human, financial, or organizational requirement for this task. New and revitalized partnerships at all levels will be necessary--including partnerships between governments, and nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, religious groups, and families. (WCEFA, 1990: 7).

Since then, private education has been viewed as an alternative scheme in the provision of education in Africa south of the Sahara. After a brief overview of the development of private education in Africa south of the Sahara, this paper addresses the comparative analysis of the two sectors (private and public), and the major policy issues that are emerging out of the current trend or development of private education.

Private Education in Africa South of the Sahara

Two reasons may have contributed to the development of private education in Africa south of the Sahara. …


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