Most African countries not doing enough to support children’s education, UNICEF says


HARARE (New Ziana) - Most African countries are failing to meet the benchmark of allocating 15 to 20 percent of their national budgets to education as stipulated in the Sustainable Development Goals framework, a United Nations agency has said.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said this in a statement released on Friday ahead of the Day of the African Child on Sunday.

It said 9 out of 49 African countries -less than 1 in 5 -dedicated 20 percent or more of their public spending to education, 24, including Zimbabwe, committed at least 15 percent while 6 directed less than 10 percent.

UNICEF urged Zimbabwe to raise its investment in education to the globally agreed target of 20 percent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of universal, inclusive and equitable basic education for all school-age children by 2030, and to ensure access to education for all Zimbabwean children, including the poorest children and those living with disabilities.

The UN agency said approximately US$183 billion is needed for children’s education in African countries annually, to reach Sustainable Development Goals on education, while available resources stand at $106 billion, leaving a financing gap of over 40 percent.

“Governments in Africa spend around two percent of their education budgets on pre-primary education, while 20 percent goes to tertiary on average. 13 out of 40 African Governments with available data invested no resources in pre-primary education while tertiary education continues to be overprioritized,” said UNICEF.

As of 2022, the UN agency said spending on education was on average below pre-pandemic levels and on par with levels from a decade ago, adding that COVID-19 caused a significant decline in education spending across the continent, with real per capita education expenditure in 2022 equalling levels seen in 2012/13.

“Public school financing matters for student enrolment, retention and achievement. A growing body of evidence shows that increased education and school budgets lead to better student outcomes.”

“A well-financed education sector leads to quality learning outcomes, inclusive quality teaching and learning, and increases girls’ participation,” UNICEF said.

With estimates that the continent will be home to 1 billion children by 2050, without urgent attention, the huge lack of financing for education will be catastrophic for a generation of students and the future economic growth and stability of the region.

As a way forward, UNICEF urged governments to increase public investment in the early years, as studies confirm that pre-primary investments are among the most that governments can support, yet early childhood education continues to see the smallest budget share.

“Children between the ages of three and six years might seem like they are only just beginning life’s journey, but by this time more than 85 percent of their brain development is already taking place. Hence the importance of investing early, to give them a chance of the best start in life,” said UNICEF.

The Day of the African Child is a commemoration of the Soweto Uprising in 1976, when students protested against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime.

Initiated by the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union), it is celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991.

This year the theme for the Day of the African Child is “Education for all children in Africa: the time is now”, aligning with the AU’s Year of Education, which focuses on building resilient education systems to ensure increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality and relevant learning in Africa.

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