Education is something that can almost be taken for granted in many parts of the world; unfortunately, this cannot be said for each and every nation that forms part of Africa. For various reasons, basic and compulsory education for children in several African countries cannot be taken for granted; even when there is a strong societal desire and legislative intent, implementation of public school programs has been a problematic challenge recognized by the United Nations.
When the UN established its Millennium Development Goals for the Continent in the late 20th century, educational systems were a major priority. Ideally, this goal would mean public school solutions conducive to development; however, time is of the essence and other acceptable solutions such as private education are being implemented. As the youngest continent, Africa needs to enroll as many children in school as possible. Education is an effective ticket towards social justice and economic development; if boosting private schools in Africa is the answer, then so be it and public school systems would have to wait until some nations can emulate models such as the French grande école, a highly competitive and prestigious institution provided free of charge to gifted students.
Thus far, low-cost private schools have fared better in terms of meeting Millennium Development Goals. The growth of private education in Africa is nothing like the private academies of Europe and the Americas, where expensive and elitist schools cater to the children of wealthy families for lifestyle reasons. In Ghana, for example, private grade schools cater to families that get by on just $2 per day; these are families whose circumstances make it difficult to enroll their children in public schools. It costs the Ghanian government $4 per week to educate a child in the public system; a low-income family can invest $1 per week to keep a child in a private school.
UNESCO and UNICEF have released figures on the progress of schooling in sub-Saharan Africa, and the results from 1999 to 2012 are certainly promising: a 75 percent increase that represents 144 million children. When looking at the role that private schools have played in this growth, an interesting picture emerges for 2014:
Percentage of Private School Enrollment
* Ghana: 23.2 percent
* Uganda: 19.5 percent
* Kenya: 16 percent
* Nigeria: 14.9 percent
* South Africa: 4.1 percent
The perceptions among African families who enroll their children in private schools vary widely between regions and nations. The majority of these private schools are the only choice for parents who live in remote locations, and they are affordable solutions; in other words, they are the only choice. In Nigeria, for example, many public schools suffer from extremely negative reputations; nonetheless, the government has engaged in criticizing private academies on the basis that they threaten the public system.
One thing that most low-fee private schools in Africa have in common is that they use technology extensively to deliver the curriculum and to cut costs. Many private academies enjoy grants from tech giants such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook, and this makes them easy targets for defenders of public school systems who argue that these companies are seeking to make inroads in terms of branding and consumption.
Private schools for low-income African families are not necessarily profitable; many of them are forced to cut corners and provide a minimum in terms of education. The UN agencies monitoring the situation are likely aware of shortcomings, and they would certainly prefer to see African public school systems improving for the purpose of meeting development goals. The reality has to be faced: if parents are able to afford private academies and prefer them to public school systems, it makes sense that they continue to do so.
Only time will tell if private academies in Africa will continue to grow. These schools are very reliant on grants from business benefactors; public systems would like to get their hands on some of these funds. For the time being, what really matters is that African children continue learning.