Picture/Karel Prinsloo/ ARETE

A successful African Union Year of Education requires adequate resources

As the continent convened for the launch of the African Union (AU) Year of Education in Addis Ababa, a lot of hope is in the air for the potential that can be unlocked for the continent with a focus on learning.

Apart from the lifelong educational benefits from building foundational learning, ripple effects from this Year of Education will be felt across other areas too, from health to climate change and overall sustainable development.

There is one pressing challenge that may stand in the way: the size of Africa’s education funding gap

New GEM Report research shows that African countries require an additional $77 billion annually to achieve their national SDG 4 benchmarks and accommodate more than 100 million students by 2030. This represents over 80% of the total annual global financing shortfall of $97 billion in low- and lower-middle-income countries. And yet, despite this urgent need, the Africa edition of the Education Finance Watch just released, in partnership with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the World Bank, shows that aid to education in sub-Saharan Africa plummeted by 23% in the last recorded year.


Our research has shown that learning outcomes are lowest in countries spending the least per school-aged child.  For this to happen, however, countries must ensure the financing of their education systems matches their ambitions.

There is clear commitment among many countries to improve education outcomes for children. The Africa version of the annual SDG 4 Scorecard just released by the GEM Report and the UIS, the new way of measuring progress towards SDG 4, shows what African countries have committed to achieve as expressed through their national SDG 4 benchmarks and how likely they are to achieve their targets.

By 2025, African countries intend to halve their primary out-of-school rates to 11%, and to ensure that 46% are reading with proficiency at the end of primary school.  They have also committed to ensuring that 79% of teachers will be trained at the pre-primary level and 85% at the primary level.

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However, the scale of the challenge is notable

Currently one in five children of primary school age are out of school on the continent, and at most one in five children achieve minimum proficiency level in reading at the end of primary education. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region worldwide not to have achieved gender parity in enrolment at any level in the education system.

The Africa edition of the SDG 4 Scorecard shows that one in five countries in Africa are making fast progress towards their out-of-school national benchmarks, for instance, yet as many countries have made no progress at all.

The desire for this Year of Education to be a success against the scale of the challenge calls for more resources. Three in four countries on the African continent are not meeting both international benchmarks for education spending – of spending at least 4% of GDP and at least 15% of total government budgets on education. The median annual education spending per capita has stagnated throughout the past decade, reaching US$92 in 2021.

All children are born to learn but, without adequate investment and targeted interventions, Africa risks wasting their potential and perpetuating cycles of poverty.

The GEM Report is working hand in hand with governments on the continent through its Spotlight series on foundational learning in partnership with the AU and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa. This partnership is shining a light on positive practices that can serve as a strong example for where progress can be found for the continent.

School-feeding programmes in Rwanda, teacher communities in Ghana, mother-tongue instruction policies in Mozambique and early-grade assessments in Zambia are just some of the policies this research has shown are making a difference.



Resources can also be spent more effectively when results are tracked

To show policies are making a difference on learning, good data are needed. Yet, at present, what success in learning outcomes this year will look like will be hard to assess given that 76% of countries do not have enough data, a challenge widely discussed two weeks ago with many representatives from the continent at the UNESCO Conference on Education Data and Statistics.

However, collecting data on learning is costly.  Many countries have received external support to monitor learning. But it is fair to say that this has not yielded tangible results. Support has been fragmented, lacking a vision of how to develop capacity and institutions that serve ministries of education and, ultimately, this continent.

Domestic financing for countries’ own agendas will ensure that the progress is nationally shaped, tracked and determined. This will bring an evidence-based approach to the upcoming review of the implementation of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa and the development of a new transformational strategy for the continent for 2026 and beyond.

The pressing challenge facing Africa is clear: bridge the gap between educational aspirations and realities. With concerted efforts to mobilize resources, strengthen data systems, and prioritize equitable education during this AU Year of Education, Africa can unlock its full potential and pave the way for a brighter future for generations to come.



1 comment

  1. African Union (AU) Year of Education is a welcome development because education funding/recourse mobilisation is central to the success of education and training. There is commendable efforts by respective countries to increase access by providing substantial national funding budget; however it has not yielded the expected results. The specific task funding model requires revisiting. The analysis of the tasks and scope should be able to differentiate between important and urgent tasks. Some funded education activities are important but not urgent and others are urgent but not important. How do we balance the importance and urgence of the education tasks this time. The funding is both important and urgent but the education tasks can be either important or urgent or both important and urgent.

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