The private sector is essential to achieve the goal of education for all

by MMC
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The SDG goal of providing quality education for all by 2030 will be impossible to achieve in Africa unless non-state actors work hand-in-hand with formal education institutions.

We agree with the The United Nations when he states that education systems need to be redesigned and that financing education should be a priority for every national government in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). It is imperative that all children have access to quality education. To do this, we must recognize all credible school models.

There have been successes to celebrate in education in Africa. The primary school enrollment rate in sub-Saharan African countries has increased from 80% in 2000 to 99% in 2023. However, this increase in enrollment has not translated into better learning outcomes, and with setbacks ranging from a global health pandemic to regional conflicts, it is clear that the world is not yet on the right track to achieve SDG 4 by 2030.

SDG 4 is one of 17 interrelated Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015 to bring peace and prosperity to all people on the planet. SDG 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Taking an “all hands on deck” approach through coordination, collaboration and partnerships seems to be the best way forward.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s child population is the fastest growing in the world. UNICEF and the African Union predict that this region will have the highest birth rate until the end of this century. #

This will place immense pressure on national education systems and, as we know from experience, public education alone cannot meet this demand.

Recognizing the contributions of affordable non-state sector (NSE) education providers is the first hurdle to overcome. Working collaboratively with them to create impact is the second.

UNESCO estimates that 15 million additional trained teachers will be needed to achieve educational goals in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.

This comes against the backdrop of increasing class sizes, with a stubbornly unbalanced student/teacher ratio. The growing demand from African communities is the main cause, and it should be recognized that most governments in the region cannot yet adequately finance and support public schools to move this ratio to a more manageable level that does not compromise the quality of learning. The ANS can alleviate this pressure.

20 million Nigerian children have no education

Nigeria, where the SEED Care & Support Foundation is based, has consistently ranked among the countries with the highest rate of out-of-school children in the world, with a estimated 20 million children would not be in school in 2022.

In response, low-fee private schools (LFPS), the largest subgroup of schools within the ANS, developed as an organic community response to overburdened public education.

SEED was born out of the desire to improve education outcomes in Lagos State. It began as a project supported by the UK-funded DEEPEN program in Nigeria before becoming a locally run charity supporting affordable non-public schools.

According to state officialsLagos State is now mainly served by non-public schools, with these outnumbering public schools 22 times.

Engagement between the Nigerian government and the ANS has evolved due to the educational needs of children, as well as efforts by ANS stakeholders, such as SEED, to represent themselves collectively in a cohesive manner. This put the ANS on a good footing with education policy makers; The contributions of low-cost private schools are better recognized by the government than in most other countries.

The relationship between the ANS and the State is not yet perfect, but genuine collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has created favorable regulations.

Compared to the rest of the country, Lagos State performs well in education, with enrollment rates of 97% according to the 2017/2018 LEARNNigeria investigation. SEED’s work in Nigeria has shown that governments can better integrate alternative arrangements into education systems to improve schooling and learning.

A similar situation can also be observed in Ghana, with the International Finance Corporation it is estimated that 40% of schools are non-public and the number of children enrolled increases each year.

Kasoa, a rapidly urbanizing area just outside Accra, is served primarily by non-public schools with 83% households with at least one child enrolled in a low-cost private school.

For 15 years, the IDP Foundation (IDPF) has been working in Ghana to build educational capacity through its Rising Schools Program. Throughout this period, IDPF also supported the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) to engage more constructively with government to support educational provision across the country.

Effective collaboration with the Ghanaian government has yielded positive results for education in the country. The LFPS have been included in the National Standardized Test, an initiative of the Ministry of Education, to assess students’ skills in English and mathematics, providing valuable information on the coverage of approved programs.

LFPS students were not previously included in this testing initiative, showing that only through better collaboration can improved learning quality and standardized teaching be extended to all children.

Collaborative delivery in education

ANS stakeholders often tell us that because LFPS are funded by tuition fees, their needs are ignored, despite their vital contributions to education.

However, many LFPS typically cater to families in lower socioeconomic quintiles, often serving as the only option for children to access education. Disenfranchising the ANS, which almost supports one on three children around the world, could harm the educational prospects of vulnerable communities in the long term.

When we work together, public and non-state education providers can make a difference to learning outcomes. We ask governments to do more than simply recognize their existence; we ask them to see the value in bringing all hands on deck and giving the ANS a place at the table when planning national education systems. Only then can we hope to achieve SDG 4 by 2030.

Background and biographies

This opinion article is inspired by a fireside webinar organized by the IDP Foundation in late 2023 in which Olanrewaju participated as a speaker, with the discussion moderated by Stephen Caleb Opuni.

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