With the expectation that one in four young African students—or 66 million—will be enrolled in a private school by 2021, the potential for investment and impact in the sector has “rarely been greater,” a new report declares.
The report, from the investment and advisory firm Caerus Capital, notes that the huge demographic shift in the continent, rapid urbanization, the increased use of technology, and the emergence of a middle class has amplified the role of private education throughout the continent. African governments should formulate policy frameworks and public-private partnerships that would expand access to and improve quality at these institutions, the firm suggests.
Across Africa, the researchers found, 21% of children and young people currently in school are enrolled in a private educational entity. These include for-profit, charitable, non-governmental, faith-based, and community-managed institutions, providing services including primary and secondary education; technical and vocational training; and supplementary after-school or language tutoring.
Private enrollment grew faster than public enrollment between 2005 and 2013, at every level other than the pre-primary (kindergarten) level. Still, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of young African students—158 million—are in public education, with only an estimated 41 million in private education.
In a time of rapid population growth, tight fiscal budgets, and widespread corruption, African governments continue to have a hard time expanding free public education or hiring more qualified teachers.
Low-cost private schools have dramatically grown across the continent to fill this gap. Middle-class parents with better financial resources have turned to private schools to give their children better educations, with more innovative and developed programs.
Despite gains in school enrollment in Sub-Saharan Africa, 30 million primary school-age children still have no access to any sort of formal education, and Africa has the unenviable distinction of being the continent with the world’s largest out-of-school population. The situation is so dismal that African nations are expected to achieve universal primary education more than a century after high-income nations. Under current educational models, half of all primary school children will reach adolescence without the basic skills they need to lead productive lives. And while public spending on education has increased over the last decade, the public sector still lacks sufficient capital or capacity to fill the rising demand for educational opportunity.
Private schools have been controversial in Africa. In Kenya, privately-owned schools in slums have been accused of deepening the country’s inequality. In Uganda, the Mark Zuckerberg- and Bill Gates-funded Bridge International Academies were closed by authorities after they were accused of a lack of proper licensing, using unsanitary spaces for instruction, and “teaching pornography” as part of a sex education program. In Liberia, the Partnerships for Schools program was criticized for privatizing public education—even as the government defended the program as a bold move to transform educational systems.
But with improved policy regulations, the right financing, and public-private partnerships, the continent can develop a hybrid educational infrastructure that could educate its youngsters, Caerus Capital argues. The firm estimates that $16 to $18 billion in investment is required to grow the private education sector over the next five years. These investments could come from both commercial and strategic investors, and from donor nations who are already investing in the region.