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Free schooling is often inadequate in low-income countries, says DFID report

09 February 2018


The French President, Emmanuel Macron, shakes hands with the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, at a welcome ceremony at the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal, where the leaders held a Global Partnership for Education conference last week

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, shakes hands with the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, at a welcome ceremony at the presidential palace in Dak...

NINETY per cent of children who leave primary school in low-income countries are not expected to read or do basic maths, a new report from the Department for International Development (DFID) says.

Globally, most children are now able to access basic education, and, in 2015, 17 per cent of spending in low-income countries, and 16 per cent in lower-middle-income countries went to education. But it is estimated that low- and middle-income countries spend two per cent of GDP on education which does not lead to learning.

In a new DFID policy on education, published last week, the International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said: “Our top priority will be raising the bar on teaching quality. . . We will support national leaders ready to take a fresh look at how their workforces are recruited, trained, and motivated; so that they can make the bold changes that are needed.” She went on: “If we determine that a country could contribute more towards its own education, we will expect it to do so.”

The policy draws attention to domestic finance in low-income countries, which is “heavily skewed towards higher levels of education”, and that many children do not achieve basic literacy and numeracy. DFID reports that “in many African countries, the majority of primary teachers do not have the minimum levels of literacy or the teaching skills they need to teach their classes.”

Jaime Saavedra, who leads the global education practice at the World Bank, told The Guardian last week that more than 260 million children worldwide were out of school, and that more than half of those in education were not learning. He warned that the push to ensure free education by 2030 had helped fuel a “trade-off of quality for quantity”.

Literacy data from UNESCO in 27 countries affected by conflict or disaster suggests that nearly three in ten young people aged between 15 and 24 are illiterate, totalling 59 million. The number is much higher in some countries, including Niger (76 per cent), Chad (69 per cent), and South Sudan (68 per cent). The situation is worse for girls and young women, of whom 33 per cent are illiterate, compared with 24 per cent of boys.

The analysis was published on the eve of the Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference in Dakar, Senegal, held by the Presidents of France and Senegal, last week. World leaders pledged $2.3 billion, short of the $3-billion target. The conference also encouraged low-income countries to increase their expenditure on education to 20 per cent of the national budget.

The UK was one of the most generous donors in Dakar, pledging £225 million: an increase of almost 50 per cent to the current annual contribution to global education.

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