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Trip to Africa


Sub-Saharan Africa has made great progress in education, but enormous challengesremain. Half of Africa's primary school-age children are not in school, and less than halfof those entering first grade will complete their primary education. Many will drop outbefore they acquire minimal levels of literacy and numeracy.


Few Sub-Saharan countries have higher than 60 percent enrollment. In Ethiopia andMali, school enrollment is below 30 percent. In most countries, far fewer girlsenroll and stay in primary school than boys. In Benin, only 62 girls attend school forevery 100 boys who are able to do so.

Adult literacy remains at about 50 percent in Africa, compared to 64 percentin Asia and 84 percent in Latin America.


The Role of U.S. Foreign Assistance

Investments in universal primary education have been widely recognized as a criticallink to economic growth, reduction of poverty, improved health of women and their familiesand the enhanced status of women. Girls' education, in particular, is considered the mostimportant investment a country can make to improve economic and social development. USAIDworks to ensure that developing countries give every child access to an effective primaryeducation. USAID provides about 80 percent (an average of $65 million annually) ofits basic education assistance to Africa.

One of the major constraints to improving education in Africa is lack of institutionalcapacity. In Ghana, the agency supported the government in restructuring its basiceducation program to emphasize decentralization. Included were support for communityidentification of education objectives and the use of fundamental quality-level indicatorsto monitor progress toward these objectives. Three other countries, Benin, Ethiopia andGuinea, adopted this model as a strategy for involving communities, improvingaccountability and increasing school effectiveness.

USAID support for primary education in Uganda exemplifies the powerful results that canbe achieved through U.S. foreign assistance. By the end of the 1980s, Uganda's educationsystem had collapsed from protracted civil strife and economic deterioration. Uganda hadthe lowest adult literacy rate in East Africa. More than half of teachers were untrained,school infrastructure had completely collapsed and public expenditure on education wasminimal. Only 53 percent of school-age children were enrolled, and about50 percent of enrollees dropped out before mastering basic literacy skills. In 1986,a new government came to power and created an economic rehabilitation agenda stressing theimportance of education. Our assistance was designed to facilitate the government'sefforts to decentralize resources, strengthen management at the district and school levelsand improve student mastery of basic literacy and math skills.

As a result of this partnership, books are more available in Ugandan schools thananytime in the last 20 years. Over 4 million textbooks, teachers' guides and materialshave been distributed to schools. Communities built more than 1,000 new classrooms in 1995alone. 4,000 head teachers have received school management training, while over 10,000teachers have benefited from refresher courses. When assistance began in 1991, teachersalaries were extremely low -- $8 a month. After only four years, the government met anearly project condition requiring it to raise teacher salaries to the living wage over a10-year period. Real teacher wages rose 900 percent. The government reduced theteaching force by 10,000 untrained teachers. Savings exceeded $1 million a year, andqualified teachers were distributed more equitably among rural and urban schools. Theproportion of qualified teachers in the system has risen to more than 60 percent.

Recently, President Museveni made a bold announcement of Universal Primary Education inUganda -- allowing free education for four children in every family. The primary schoolpopulation of Uganda has nearly doubled -- to 5.3 million students -- with the vastmajority of new students entering the first and second grades. Girls now outnumber boys insome schools.

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