Key policy challenges of secondary education in Africa

Suleman Sumra (SS) and Rakesh Rajani’s (RR) working paper may well have been an analysis reflecting secondary education policy challenges in Africa. Five policy challenges encountered in Tanzania’s education policy reform process since 2001, which they raise, are outlined and discussed in the context of secondary education policies confronting the continent.

Teachers’ standards, incentives and tools

The main argument here is encapsulated by SS and RR’s position that ‘…without motivated and competent teachers focused on pupil learning, all the reforms will come to nought. If teachers are at the heart of education, they ought to be at the heart of…policy and practice, budgets and political rhetoric as well.’ However, rather than their view of a teacher versus infrastructure trade-off, I view both as complimentary and deserving appropriate investments. Teachers need to have both subject knowledge and pedagogical skills. In this sense, teachers could be seen as facilitators working with students to better understand the world around them and their own experiences. Learning after all is not just a function of classroom experience but a summation of the child’s interaction with their environment.

Teachers need to be trained pre and in service, but above training, standards for entry into the teaching profession need to be reviewed. Entry needs to be made competitive and like other specialised professions, teaching needs clear induction, review and upgrading processes, in addition to standard inspection processes. As SS and RR argue, rather than a ‘checking’ function, inspectors could do much more in contributing to the teaching and learning process. In addition to good teachers, attention needs to be paid to building/improving classrooms, providing learning tools (such as computers), libraries, laboratories, health/ sick bays, counselling service and toilets! This needs clear thinking beyond the current ‘six classroom block’ paradigm which is predominant around the continent. The thinking should focus on ‘what makes a classroom good for student learning?’

Language of Instruction

Language of instruction is perhaps one of the biggest subjects in education policy in East Africa, and the same is the case in the republic of South Africa. While, as SS and RR rightly note, many educationists agree on the value of local languages, there are concerns about opportunity for children if they are not well grounded in international languages. My take on this is to pursue a twain route: teach both languages simultaneously, and enlist the involvement of communities in language education, as many as 6, 000 languages are at risk of extinction. I am for learning and preserving local languages, without which many important local expressions and history may be lost. But how best to do this and achieve the best results remains a subject for debate both now and in future years. The ‘language of preservation’ – ‘language of opportunity’ debate continues.

Expand but focus

SS and RR discuss the need to set clear targets in relation to infrastructure, human capital development and enrolment. Achieving the right balance between these three issues presents serious policy concern for governments, especially given resource shortfalls and dependence on international donors whose mandate mainly focus on ‘universal primary education’ as enshrined in the MDGs. Many countries focus at the moment on enrolment as a measure of educational progress, but all three should work in tandem, and there is hardly enough justification for trade-offs as each is crucial to achieving any form of progress in education delivery.

Better to ‘focus on outcomes’ not outputs

Setting clear targets should have implications for curriculum, quality and outcomes, and bring to the fore the question: education for what? As SS and RR rightly note, education needs to focus more on outcomes in the lives of the pupils such as mobility, in addition to the currently near exclusive focus on outputs- no of students enrolled or completing final exams. Increasing enrolment is a good start, but this needs to be in tandem with the delivery of quality secondary education. Outcomes could include a range of possibilities in the lives of the young people.  Focusing on outcomes will mean linking education policies to broader national policies. National aspirations and educational planning should be inextricably linked, and the former should to a greater extent shape the design and pursuit of the latter. In order to answer the question ‘education for what,’ education policy outcomes should be evaluated and measured within the context of long term national development strategies such as the vision 2016s, 2020s and 2030s in different African countries; Botswana, Nigeria and Zambia respectively.

‘Measuring Success’

SS and RR raise important concerns about the present focus of measures of educational progress exclusively on outputs such as test/ examination results, rather than competencies and skills gained by students. This concern has been a subject of intense debate in South Africa following the release of the recent high school matriculation exam results. Measuring educational progress requires much more than exam results. It requires a focus on analytical and problem solving skills, and beyond that, schools need to develop a mechanism to keep track of their pupils’ future trajectories – where do they go when they leave? What do they become? Employers in Africa complain about the lack of human capital, in spite of claims that ‘this generation of young African’s are the most educated’ than any previous generation of their age cohort. Part of the problem is that schools don’t help them learn the skills they really need to survive in the labour market and employers are not ready to train.


ps: I welcome comments and your thoughts on the situation of secondary education in your country.

One thought on “Key policy challenges of secondary education in Africa

  1. Taiwo

    There is no gainsaying the fact that education is very vital to the pace of social, political and economic development of any nation.there are numerous issues and problems involved in the management of education system in Nigeria. Some of such issues include:
    a. Policy gap in the management of primary education in Nigeria,
    b. Data gaps,
    c. Funding gaps,
    d. Institutional capacity gaps,
    e. Gender balancing in enrollment,
    f. Quality assurance in Primary Education

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