Africa has the world’s youngest population, with nearly 800 million people under the age of 25 and 677 million between the ages of 3 and 24. By the middle of this century, according to UNICEF, Africa will be home to a billion children and youths under 18, or nearly 40% of people in this age group worldwide.


Despite significant progress in education and literacy in Africa over the years, the educational sector still faces substantial challenges. For example, according to UNESCO, the adult literacy rate in Africa increased from 60% in 1990 to 64% in 2015 and 67% in 2020. Nevertheless, this is still below the global average of 87%.


Literacy and Out of School Rate continues to be a global concern

In 2021, according to UNESCO, approximately 244 million children and youths between 6 and 18 were out of school globally. Of these, 118.5 million were girls, and 125.5 million were boys.


The out-of-school rate is the percentage of children and youths in the official age range for a given level of education who are not enrolled in pre-primary, primary, secondary, or higher education. This metric is intended to quantify the proportion of a country’s or region’s youth population who are supposed to be enrolled in school but have dropped out entirely.


The out-of-school rate is frequently reported in two ways: as a percentage of the population in the official age range for a given level of education or as the total number of out-of-school children and youths.


Out of School Children (Millions) – World

The estimates show that efforts to reduce out-of-school students had slowed down even before COVID-19.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest rates of educational exclusion. In 2019, approximately 105 million African children, or 41% of all children worldwide, were not enrolled in school. These children were of primary and secondary school age. Children aged 6 to 11 account for more than half of those not enrolled in school, followed by those aged 12 to 14. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data, nearly 60% of children between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school.


Additionally, many kids drop out of school before finishing. One out of every three kids in a cohort drops out of elementary school. Only 41% of a cohort completes primary education, while only 23% complete secondary education.


Africa grapples with significant disparities in education

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the net enrollment rate in primary education in Africa increased from 72% in 2000 to 84% in 2016 and 97% in 2020. Secondary enrollment increased from 40% in 2010 to 44% in 2020, while tertiary enrollment increased by only 2%, from 8% in 2010 to 10% in 2020.


Throughout the region, girls’ education remains a top priority. UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS)  data indicates that 9 million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 will never attend school, compared to 6 million boys in the same age range. Girls are already disadvantaged because 23% drop out of primary school, compared to 19% of boys. In addition, girls have a 36% higher exclusion rate by the time they reach adolescence than boys at 32%.


Although many African countries have made progress, there are still huge disparities in enrollment between boys and girls. For example, the female enrollment rate in 2019 was below 65% in some countries like Eritrea and Niger.


Low learning standards, poverty, conflict, political instability, and a lack of government investment have stunted Africa’s educational growth

By age 10, approximately 87% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa have not been taught the basics of reading and comprehension. This is due to the combined effects of many out-of-school children, untrained or poorly trained teachers, and poor learning outcomes for those in school. As a result, only 35% of children typically reach a minimal level of competency in reading by the end of primary school.


Moreover, Africa has a severe lack of trained teachers. To achieve the universal primary and secondary education goal on the continent by 2030, UNESCO reports that Africa requires an additional 18 million teachers. Unfortunately, many nations in the region resort to hiring unqualified and frequently untrained teachers to keep up with the rising demand for education.


Poverty, which remains a significant factor in school dropout rates, is another obstacle that must be surmounted. Children from affluent families are ten times more likely to complete elementary school than those from the lowest quintile. However, even when school fees are waived, many low-income children cannot afford to attend even due to opportunity costs, a lack of nearby educational institutions, and cultural norms.


Lastly, war and insecurity uproot entire populations, including school-aged kids. School closures have increased in West and Central Africa due to attacks on students, teachers, and schools and a general decline in security. As a result of the conflict, millions of students in this region have had their education disrupted, and thousands of schools have closed.


Despite these challenges, there have been notable improvements in countries such as Kenya and South Africa, where literacy rates and primary school enrollment have risen.


Digital Learning can be a potent tool for quality and an equitable education system in Africa – effectively bridging the gap

Digital learning has the potential to play a significant role in accelerating literacy in Africa and addressing some of the shortfalls in the education sector. There has been a proliferation of advanced technologies in the last decade, of which education isn’t left out. The potential of what has been called “e-learning,” “online learning,” “virtual learning,” and “digital learning” since its inception in 1999 is now being fully realised. Additionally, according to Market Insider, there has been significant investment in Edtech around the world, reaching $18.66 billion in 2019 – reflecting the industry’s rapid development and widespread uptake even before COVID-19.


With the advent of relatively inexpensive and widely accessible digital technologies, digital learning has become pervasive and increasing at an unprecedented rate – keeping pace with humanity’s never-ending quest for knowledge.  Africa’s educational system stands a great chance of benefiting in the following ways from adopting digital learning:


  • Increased access to education: Digital learning can make education more accessible to students, especially in remote and rural areas where traditional schools are scarce. With digital learning, students can access educational resources and take online classes from anywhere with an internet connection. Digital learning combines high-tech and low-cost solutions to ensure the safe continuity of learning while schools are closed.
  • Improved quality of education: Digital learning can provide students with more engaging and interactive educational experiences, with multimedia content that makes learning more exciting and compelling. This can help improve education quality, especially in regions with scarce resources and qualified teachers.
  • Increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness: Digital learning can be more efficient and cost-effective than traditional classroom-based education. For example, it eliminates the need for teachers to travel to remote areas and allows for sharing educational resources on a large scale.
  • Bridging the gender gap in education: Digital learning can help to address the gender gap in education by providing girls with equal access to education, regardless of their location or cultural background.
  • Addressing the needs of marginalised communities: Digital learning can provide educational opportunities for marginalised communities, such as refugees and internally displaced people, who may not have access to traditional schools.


In conclusion. if children and youths in Africa are given good opportunities to thrive and develop their full potential through high-quality education, the burgeoning youth population can become a potent driver of economic growth and social progress across Africa and the rest of the world.


Although digital learning has the potential to improve literacy and education in Africa significantly, there are obstacles to its widespread adoption. These include a lack of affordable access to technology, poor digital literacy skills among educators, and a dearth of resources to support the implementation of digital learning. The government, educators, and the private sector must work together to ensure digital learning initiatives are well-designed, well-implemented, and well-supported. Without immediate action, the situation will likely deteriorate as the region’s school-age population grows and the demand for education rises.


Written by:

Kingsley Ahiwe

E-learning Content Developer