Today: April 11, 2024

Education is a casualty of Africa's high debt burden

Africa’s debt burden crippling education and stifling growth


Africa’s vast potential is overshadowed by a crippling debt burden, exceeding $1.8 trillion in 2023. This represents a staggering 60% of the continent’s GDP, a sharp increase from $468 billion in 2010 (World Bank, African Development Bank, 2023).
This suffocating debt significantly impacts social well-being, with education being a prime casualty. Dedicating a large portion of government budgets to debt servicing leaves less for critical areas like education. In 2022, sub-Saharan Africa spent a meager 4.1% of its GDP on education, falling short of both the global average and the recommended 6% (UNESCO, 2023).
This shortfall forces governments to implement austerity measures, often resulting in reduced teacher salaries which discourages qualified individuals from entering the profession and leads to high teacher turnover. On another hand this had led to teacher shortages leading to larger class sizes and decreased individual attention hinder effective learning. Finally due to shortage of funds there is inadequate learning materials: Budget cuts mean limited access to textbooks, technology, and other resources necessary for a quality education.
The consequences of this debt burden are evident across Africa in Zimbabwe there was a 15% education budget cut between 2019-2022 which resulted in teacher shortages and insufficient learning resources. In Kenya a 10% decrease in education spending was witnessed since 2018 and this negatively impacted school infrastructure and teacher training programs.
In Chad there as a 20% decline in education funding within the past five years causing a limited access to quality education, particularly in rural areas. Most of these African countries have debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding the recommended 60%, while falling short of the 20% investment in education proposed by UNESCO to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) for quality education.
The debt burden creates a vicious cycle that perpetuates poverty and stymies development. High debt servicing leads to leads to reduced government expenditures t leading to exorbitant school fees, pushing children out of school and widening the education gap, particularly for vulnerable populations.
This produces a poorly educated population which lacks the skills and knowledge needed to compete in the job market, hindering national economic development. Lack of this education traps families in poverty cycles, as children struggle to find decent jobs and improve their living standards. The uneducated populations are more susceptible to social unrest, extremism, and health problems, posing additional challenges to stability and development.
Breaking the Cycle: A Path Forward
There is hope for Africa to break free from this debt-education stranglehold. A multi-pronged approach is needed:
There is need for debt cancellation and restructuring. Advocating for debt cancellation for heavily indebted countries and fairer restructuring terms can free up resources for investments in education and other crucial sectors. There is a need to combating Illicit financial flows. Tackling tax evasion and other illegal capital outflows can increase available resources for debt repayment and development. The African must efficiently direct tax revenue towards developmental areas and avoid unnecessary expenditures. There is need to invest more in Education: This includes through teacher training and offering competitive salaries to attract and retain qualified educators. Curriculum development to equip students with the skills needed for the 21st century.
By implementing these solutions, African countries can invest in their most valuable resource – their people. An educated and skilled population is the key to unlocking Africa’s full potential and paving the way for a brighter future.
Augustine Gwata is an economist and policy analyst

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