With the successful conclusion of Africa’s first World Cup, it remains to be seen what the broader legacy of the event will be for sub-Saharan Africa. While there is justifiably much pride in South Africa’s tremendous work in hosting a major world event, it is not yet clear what will be left behind for Africa’s children. South African President Jacob Zuma rightly argued at an education summit before the final game that there could be no greater legacy than universal primary education across the continent. Yet, the latest figures demonstrate that 32 million children still do not go to primary school in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall levels of international aid to basic education for the region declined after 2007 and have not grown significantly since 2003. Without a much greater and more targeted investment in education in Africa, there is no chance that world leaders will achieve their commitment to universal primary education by 2015.
Despite important progress in a number of key countries, less than 70 percent of children are enrolled in primary school in ten of the poorest Africa countries. In the countries with the largest share of Africa’s out-of-school children, such as Mali, Ghana, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ethiopia and Nigeria, the challenge is often one of reaching poor girls in rural areas who are among the least likely to be in school. A number of countries have shown that it is possible to reach these children by developing strategies that specifically target the barriers to schooling that these children face. For example, in Ethiopia, a strategy of building thousands of schools in rural areas contributed to cutting the number of out of school children by over 3 million. In Burkina Faso, rural schools that offered meals and provided separate bathrooms for boys and girls increased enrollment rates from just 35 to 55 percent.
While the strategies for success in expanding access are fairly clear, the resources to complete the job remain starkly inadequate. Unfortunately, the world’s wealthiest countries are not yet delivering on their past promises of aid to Africa. UNESCO estimates that it will require as much as $11 billion each year to deliver on the commitment to universal primary education for low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is more than five times the level spent in 2008. Countries like Ghana already spend over one-quarter of their total national budget on education and the poorest countries in Africa will require additional donor resources to complement national investments if they are to achieve universal primary education.
The challenge is not just that too little donor money is going toward education, but also that a small fraction of it is currently directed to low-income countries in Africa. According to a recent UNESCO analysis, the United States gives just over one-fifth of its basic education funding to sub-Saharan Africa and only Zambia, among Sub-Saharan African nations, makes the list of top ten U.S. recipients, with most of the top recipients in the Middle East and South Asia. The United Kingdom, by contrast, invests twice as much of its education resources in sub-Saharan Africa and in low-income countries.
The 2010 World Cup could still be remembered as a turning point in the world’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in Africa. Going the last mile to achieve universal primary completion by 2015 will require the G8 to fully deliver on its past promise to double aid to Africa and the G-20 to focus on the challenge of education for development at its upcoming Summit. It will depend on President Obama fulfilling his promise to invest $2 billion in a Global Fund for Education. Finally, it will require that a far higher percentage of donor resources for education be directed to the low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa that need it most.