Printer Friendly

The status of female education.


The near-exclusion of women from formal education during the colonial period is reflected in the low levels of female participation in 1960 and the impressive growth in enrollments since then4. In the early 1960s less than 20% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa were in school. Since then the proportion of children in school has more that tripled to approximately 80 million in 1990 (Table 2.2, DAE 1994). This growth has, however, not been maintained. Between 1980 and 1990 the proportion of primary school-aged children in school declined from 78 percent to 70 percent as adverse economic conditions and population growth led to stagnation in enrollments and a decline in education quality. Comparative data for Latin America, Asia and the Middle East indicate that in 1991 both the gross primary and secondary enrollment ratios were significantly lower in the Sub-Saharan African region than in other developing regions. And the net primary enrollment ratio for the region has declined from 68 in 1970 to 48 in 1991 (World Bank 1994), a clear indication of the large number of children who remain outside the formal education systems. Indeed, about 36 million girls are out of school in the Sub-Saharan Africa region (UNESCO/UNICEF 1993).

Across the region female enrollments contributed significantly to the increase in enrollments, increasing faster than males. This rapid growth has however slowed down in recent years. For example, in Niger, female enrollment ratios rose from 3 percent in 1960 to 18 percent in 1980 and then to 21 percent in 1990. For war-torn Somalia, the corresponding numbers were 3, 14, and 7 percent and for Nigeria 31, 90 and 63 percent. Within the region, the gender gaps in education appear widest in the Sahelian countries of Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali where overall enrollments are also low by regional standards (DAE 1994). Significant gender gaps persist despite the growth in female enrollment ratios, widening as one goes up the education ladder. In 1990 girls made up 45 percent of primary students, 40 percent of secondary students and 31 percent of tertiary level students (see Table 2.1).

While it is correct to assume that girls' enrollments lag behind those of boys', in Cape Verde, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Kenya, universal primary education has been achieved, though quality degradation is a problem. In Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia, and certain regions of others, such as Eastern Nigeria, more girls than boys are enrolled in primary school because of the higher opportunity cost of boys' education. However, even in these countries, regional variations in enrollment persist. For example, in Lesotho, where more girls enter primary school than boys, the slow increase in the net enrollment ratio from 61 percent in 1981 to 70 percent in 1988 is attributed to high drop-out and repetition rates. As the data in Figure 2.1 indicate, within the country there are large enrollment gaps between the lowland districts (Berea, Naseru, Leribe, Buth-Buthe) and the mountain districts (Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong, Qacha's Nek) where because of the dispersed settlement patterns, poor educational outcomes are related to the high student/classroom ratio, poor facilities and lack of access because of the dispersed settlement patterns. In general, poor educational outcomes are related to the high student/classroom ratio, poor facilities and lack of access (HEP 1992).


Between the primary and secondary levels, female access is reduced, partly because of poorer performance of girls in national examinations and partly because of inadequate supply. An analysis of female education in Cote d'lvoire concludes that once girls have completed primary school, they are 37 percent less likely than boys to attend secondary school. Once girls complete lower secondary school, they are 14 percent more likely than boys to proceed to upper secondary school (Appleton and others 1990). Female secondary enrollments tend to be higher in those countries where girls' primary enrollments are higher, notably, Congo, Mauritius, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe where female enrollment ratios were greater than 40 percent in 1990.

The number of women enrolled in tertiary education has increased at a slower rate than male enrollment. At this level the gender gap in education is at its largest with male enrollments at least three times higher than females. Another salient feature at this level is the gender streaming by subject. Girls and women tend to enroll in education and arts subjects and to be under-represented in science subjects and mathematics where boys and men dominate. For example, in 1990, at the secondary level in Cote d' Ivoire, 23.2 percent of the literature students, 13.2 percent of the business students, 12.2 percent of the natural science students and 7.1 percent of the math students were girls (Eholie 1993). Table 2.2, (Annex 1), gives an indication of the subjects girls study at the secondary level. Table 2.3, (Annex 1), indicates the percentage of women in science subjects at the tertiary level. Female representation in science, math, vocational and technical courses is very limited. This has a distinct effect of limiting women's access to the formal labour market, where they are channeled into the lower levels (Beoku- Berts and Logan 1993,Namuddu 1992).

Persistence (5)

Access to primary education is only part of the problem for girls. Once in schools, girls often have high repetition, failure and drop-out rates resulting in low primary completion rates. Student flow data for a selected number of countries is presented in Annex I, Table A2.4. Though the data are not dis-aggregated by gender, the numbers show that a significant number of children who in enroll in the first grade do not complete primary school. Few children gain access to secondary school. Drop-out rates at the primary level are high, with slightly more girls dropping-out than boys. However, the data indicate that retention is also poor amongst boys (Table A2.4, Annex 1). Dropping-out is associated with poor academic performance and it is evident that girls do not perform as well as boys at the primary and secondary levels (Dorsey 1989, Hyde 1994, Mbilinyi and Mbughuni 1991).

In Mozambique, a study on repetition and drop-out in primary schools concludes that, "The single most important factor that contributed to bad school achievement was work for the survival of the family" (Palme 1993: 23). In Ethiopia, girls' performance in all three national examinations in 1989 is reported to have been poorer than that of boys, and generally, more girls repeat and drop-out than boys. For example, in the first grade of primary school in 1987, 20.5 percent of the girls repeated and 30.1 percent dropped-out; corresponding figures for the boys were 17.5 and 28.5 (TGE/UNICEF 1993). In Kenya, a recent analysis of student performance in the primary and secondary promotion national examinations indicates that (except in languages) female achievement is lower than that of males. The author notes that, "Particularly worrisome are the disparities in mathematics and the sciences" (Makau 1994: 14).

Repetition and drop-out continue to be problems at the secondary level. In Cote d'lvoire, for example, girls' enrollment in public and private schools at the secondary level has remained at about 30 percent over the past 10 years and there is a high level of repetition and drop-out between the middle and high levels of secondary education (Eholie 1993).

At the university level repetition and drop-out rates are also high. For example, to complete a three-year undergraduate program, students in Cameroon require on average 7.7 years in the arts, 8.9 years in law and economics, and 18.2 years in the sciences. In Madagascar, the 1988/89 repetition rate was close to 50 percent and the drop-out rate was 20 percent (Saint 1992).

The drop-out rates for men at Makerere University in Uganda are reported to be 3 percent in comparison to 20 percent for women (Namuddu 1992a).


One outcome of the low level of female participation in education in Sub-Saharan Africa is an extremely high level of female illiteracy. Figure 2.2 indicates illiteracy levels for selected developing regions. Illiteracy levels are high in Sub-Saharan Africa, second only to South Asia. Female illiteracy is more widespread than that of men.


Access to employment

One of the greatest disincentives to female education is the low level of female participation in the formal labour force. The International Labour Organization estimates that in 1990 the female labour force in Sub-Saharan Africa was 73 million, 38 percent of the total labour force, a decrease from 40 percent of the total labour force in 1970. Figure 2.3 indicates the breakdown of the female labour force by economic group. Although women are actively engaged in the agricultural labour force, their numbers have declined from 84 percent in 1970 to 76 percent in 1990. Women are well represented in the informal sector where their level of participation has registered an annual growth rate of 6 percent. In the modern sector where women who have gone through formal education aspire to work, there was rapid growth in female participation, from 1.9 percent in 1970 to 6 percent in 1985, and then a decline to 5 percent in 1990. But overall female employment in the modern sector remains low. Within the modern sector, women have been employed mainly in the civil service, with their employment in parastatals and the private sector remaining low. In the civil service, women tend to be located at the lower end of the hierarchy, working mainly in community, social and personal services. There are very few women managers and administrators. For example, in 1990 women made up less than 1 percent of managers in Ghana, Rwanda and Togo at the upper end. In Kenya and Uganda, the figures were 3.1 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively (ILO/JASPA 1991, Leigh-Doyle 1991, Palmer 1991).


Women's unemployment has been on the increase since 1985 (See Figure 2.5). This can be attributed to movements out of the agricultural sector and the diminishing growth of the urban informal sector, particularly in trade where women are concentrated. Women have also been affected by the overall economic recession in the region, retrenchment policies, and attempts to reduce the public sector as the major employer in the modern sector. Box 2.2 discusses the effect of retrenchment policies on female civil servants in selected countries.
Box 2.2: Women's Vulnerability in the Modern Sector

In Benin, Senegal and Ghana, the experience of women under
retrenchment policies provides a good example of women's
vulnerability in the labour force. In 1987, when Benin went through
a retrenchment process, women constituted only 6 percent of the
parastatal and private sector labour force. Yet they comprised 21
percent of the retrenched personnel. Thirty-one percent of the
women retrenched were in the banking sector, 40 percent in
manufacturing. In Senegal, women made up 12 percent of the labour
force in parastatals, but 20 percent of those retrenched in 1987
were women. Similarly, in Ghana, women constituted 23.5 percent of
the total wage employment but formed 31.5 percent of those

Because of the education they receive, women are concentrated in
sectors most likely to be targeted for restructuring. For example,
in Benin, 57 percent of those retrenched were in unskilled
positions and 39 percent held clerical positions. In Ghana, 40
percent of those retrenched had no education at all and 70 percent
had less than 10 years school.

Source: (ILO/JASPA 1991:75)

Since governments have been more active than the private sector in promoting female employment, the moves to limit the role of government as an employer, including the cessation of guaranteed employment schemes for graduates, such as teaching, and the deregulation of labour market policies do not augur well for women's participation in the labour market, for both the formally educated and for those who lack any formal education or training (ILO/JASPA 1991, Palmer 1991, Vandermoortele 1991).


This overview of the level of female participation in education in Africa indicates that although tremendous gains have been made since the 1960s in most places, participation levels of girls still remain lower than those of boys. Repetition, drop-out and failure is very high among girls, beginning at the primary level and continuing throughout the system: many girls remain outside the formal education system. The small number of girls who remain in the system tend to be directed away from science, mathematics and technical subjects which are in high demand in the labour market, into arts and social science subjects. Consequently, female participation in the labour market is limited, with women concentrated in the informal market. The few in the modern sector are relegated to the lower end of the hierarchy, and female participation in the private sector and parastatals remains low. Female illiteracy remains high. It is against this background that we present the following review of the obstacles to female education in SubSaharan Africa.
Table 2.1 Gross Enrollment Ratios by Gender
and Level, Sub-Saharan Africa, 1970-1990

 1970 1980 1985 1990

Primary enrollment (000's) 24,776 52,592 58,295 64,032
 Female as % of total 39 43 45 45
Gross primary enrollment ratio 46 78 75 70
 Male 56 88 83 77
 Female 36 68 67 63
Secondary enrollment (000's) 2,694 9,243 12,528 14,571
 Female as % of total 29 35 39 40
Gross primary enrollment ratio 6 16 22 21
 Male 8 21 26 25
 Female 4 11 18 19
Tertiary enrollment (000's) 189 419 819 1,219
 Female as % of total 16 21 30 31
Gross tertiary enrollment ratio 0.5 1.3 2.2 2.6
 Male 0.9 2.1 3.1 3.7
 Female 0.2 0.5 1.2 1.7

 Average Annual % Change
 70-80 80-85 85-90

Primary enrollment (000's) 7.9 1.9 2
 Female as % of total
Gross primary enrollment ratio
Secondary enrollment (000's) 13.2 6.1 3.2
 Female as % of total
Gross primary enrollment ratio
Tertiary enrollment (000's) 8.1 15.4 7.1
 Female as % of total
Gross tertiary enrollment ratio

Source: DAE 1994.
COPYRIGHT 1995 The World Bank
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Analysis to Action
Publication:Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Previous Article:II: factors affecting female schooling in sub-Saharan Africa: a literature review.
Next Article:Socioeconomic and sociocultural factors influencing female participation in education.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters