Education for all: the reality for Africa?

thumbnailMim Friday examines the current situation for the education of children in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular emphasis on Uganda, where Viva and its partner network CRANE is teaching marginalised girls.

‘Education for all’ has been the focus of the second Millennium Development Goal (MDG). Progress over 15 years was measured at the end of last year.

Mass formal education in Sub-Saharan Africa has left massive challenges for teacher supply, education and training.

Since the 1950s there has been a series of targets set for education. In 2000, the World Education Forum stated that by 2015 “all children… will have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality”. In the same year, the United Nations’ MDGs targeted “to ensure that, by 2015, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.

The MDG Goals Development Report 2015 states that Sub-Saharan Africa has “the best record of improvement in primary education of any region since the MDGs were established… with 20 per cent increased net enrolment”. However, it adds: “Despite all efforts by governments, civil society and the international community, the world has not achieved education for all”.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces daunting challenges. These include the rapid growth of the primary-school-age population which has increased by 86 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

There has been a stagnation in education progress with limited progress in youth literacy, with necessary skills for the 21st century still lacking.

Hannah McNeish/IRIN

According to the Global Campaign for Education, the fundamental reason for the gap in quality education is “the severe lack of well-trained, well-supported teachers. It is the presence of quality teachers that determines whether and how much children learn”.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering 2015-2030 has an even greater aim: “To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

This recognises the consequence of education for all in increasing student numbers and decreasing quality. According to UNESCO, 58 million children globally are still out of school; 100 million never complete primary education and millions who do go to school are leaving without basic skills.

Teacher training is central to the success of quality education for all. This is reflected in SDG 4c: “By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries”. This will require more investment and innovation, yet many governments fail to spend the recommended 20 per cent of national budget on education and international donor agencies who set the targets have also cut their aid budgets.

Whilst there are many other factors that affect educational quality, such as environment and resources, the quality of teachers remains the key determinant in having excellent teaching and learning.

John Cairns

In his book, Teachers in Anglophone Africa: Issues in teacher supply, training, and management, Aidan Mulkeen states nine issues in teacher supply, education and management: supply; deployment; utilisation; impact of HIV/AIDS; teacher training; management; teacher career structure; teacher finance; teacher issues.

Uganda has established a strong system of teacher training which varies from 12 weeks to three years, depending on the level of education the teacher will enter. Primary training requires six weeks of classroom practice whilst secondary training requires none.

Multi-grade teaching is common in Uganda because of the number of teachers compared to students, but teachers remain unprepared for this. Neither are student-centred learning approaches taught at college.

Clearly, teacher supply is a critical first step in achieving quality education for all because if enrolment increases are exceeding teacher supply, then class sizes increase, and thus direct support of learning decreases.

The Ugandan government needs to double investment in education, but immediate improvements must be low cost. This is especially so because there has been a shift from sector-wide support back to civil society, such as the DFID Girls’ Education Challenge Grant, which Viva and its partner network CRANE has successfully attained. This should push NGOs and government to work together more.


In-service teacher training by NGOs could help teachers to learn new pedagogies. Teacher training would also be greatly enhanced by increasing classroom teaching practice. NGOs could provide placements to teach child-centred, creative pedagogies which, in my experience will not be learned from government teachers. There could also be innovative opportunities for teacher exchange visits and NGOs could bring in volunteer teachers and teacher trainers to help develop Ugandan teachers.

Many of the wider challenges in Uganda’s education that revolve around teacher delivery and attitude need to be subject to the application of the teacher’s professional code of conduct so that the quality of education is improved. Headteachers undertaking regular lesson observations would be a first step in improving the quality of teaching in their schools.

girlsFurthermore, there could be school-to-school exchange visits to help improve quality of teaching. This could be initiated by NGOs, improvements measured, and then government policy created to extend such an initiative.

Given the immense challenge in Uganda, as with many other Sub-Saharan African countries to provide quality EFA, and given that donor investment is constantly changing, it is a necessary requirement for government and civil society to work more closely together to bring about change.

NGOs have more flexibility to innovate and should evidence the impact of child-centred pedagogies, provide placements for trainee teachers, support in-service training and exchanges, promote learning exchanges, and help to supply volunteer teacher trainers in order to help Uganda meet the immediate challenges in providing quality education for all.

Mim Friday is Viva’s Network Consultant for Africa. This is an abridged version of a paper she has written for the Open University.


If you’re a teacher and feel inspired to do something after reading Mim’s article, here are some suggestions:

Volunteer your time to help support the Creative Learning Centres in Uganda via an organisation called Blue Sky.  Read what a group of UK teachers did last summer by clicking here.

Organise for your class or school to raise awareness of, and funds for, our work in Uganda. For more details, email Liz at

-Write and use a series of lesson plans to enable children in the UK to understand more about life for children in Africa. Again, get in touch with Liz at to find out more.