Rural students lag behind in sub-Saharan Africa

A new study in the current issue of Comparative Education Review reveals the discrepancy between the actual state of education in sub-Saharan Africa and the educational goals outlined in the United Nation's Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) programs a decade ago.

Yanhong Zhang (UNESCO Institute for Statistics) analyzed fourteen school systems in Southern and Western Africa and found that almost 45 million students or forty-two percent of children of primary school age in the sub-Saharan region were not enrolled in school in 2001. A child in the region could expect to receive seven years of education on average, or about eight years fewer than their Western European and American counterparts.

"The reality of rural schooling in most of these countries is even further away from the targets," writes Zhang. "Since rural areas contain substantial majorities of the populations of many less developed countries, attending to the learning needs of rural children improves the chances of achieving the overall goals of EFA and MDG."

Rural students generally suffered from inferior home and school circumstances. These students were less likely to have support from their family at home for their academic work. They were also older than urban students in the same grade, and are more likely to have repeated a year.

Interestingly, Zhang found no clear pattern of gender disparity; in some countries girls had less access to schooling, but in other countries boys had the disadvantage. However, family socio-economic status played a central role in the learning disadvantage of rural students. Rural schools also had fewer and lower-quality resources than urban schools in almost all cases.

"The importance of these differences in students' individual characteristics was evident from the fact that they accounted for sizable proportions of the rural-urban gaps in reading literary scores across the fourteen school systems," explains Zhang. "The rural-urban gaps in students' reading literacy scores effectively disappeared in most countries after taking into account the context and the resources of rural and urban schools."

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Comparative Education Review investigates education throughout the world and the social, economic, and political forces that shape it. Founded in 1957 to advance knowledge and teaching in comparative education studies, the Review has since established itself as the most reliable source for the analysis of the place of education in countries other than the United States.

Zhang, Yanhong, "Urban Literacy Gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Roles of Socioeconomic Status and School Quality." Comparative Education Review: 50:4.


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