Worldwide: The Role Of Non-State Actors In Africa's Education Sector

Last Updated: 6 July 2016
Article by Dawda Jawara III and Jennifer Agnew

Most Read Contributor in UK, October 2017

The global population is expected to rise from approximately 7 billion people today, to 11 billion in 2100 and almost all newly added people will be Africans. Africa is currently the world's youngest continent with half of its people under the age of 19. As a result of this impending population boom, it will be home to more young people than anywhere else in absolute terms by the end of this century.

The Chinese example of the past 30 years has shown that a young, productive working population can drive national prosperity and lift large swathes of the population out of poverty. Conversely, the Arab Spring and the Mediterranean migrant crises of recent years have demonstrated how an unemployed and disaffected youth can stir crises and instability, the effects of which cannot be constrained within national borders.

Studies1 show that education attainment is the most effective tool in spurring economic growth and broader quality of life. This led to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to include equal access and increased enrolment in primary education as a key development goal for 2015.

The broad success of African governments in increasing levels of primary school enrolment have, however, strained public resources and in many cases led to sub-standard delivery and poor attainment outcomes. This article discusses a few non-state efforts that seek to tackle the problem of access to qualitative education in Malawi, South Africa and Ghana.


In Malawi the average student teacher ratio in a classroom, is ninety students per teacher but this can in some cases, reach three hundred students per teacher. Against this backdrop, non-profit organisations such as Onebillion are spurring improvements in the education sector. Onebillion aims to help one billion children attain better access to education. Its initiatives include providing every primary school in Malawi with a solar projector as a means of access to electricity in the classroom. To date they have succeeded in installing 5,300 solar projectors in Malawi classrooms.

Onebillion's other initiatives include the introduction of various tablet computer applications for students that aim to help teach Malawian schoolchildren Maths, English and the local language Chichewa. According to a study undertaken on Onebillion's mathematics application by the University of Nottingham with students in the UK, just 30 minutes use of the mathematics application on a tablet was equivalent to three months of formal education. Access to Onebillion's tablet computer applications start from as little as USD 14.50 per student. As of April 2016, use of Onebillion's tablet computer applications has been rolled out to 68 schools in Malawi.


A 2015 OECD report highlighted that Ghana was the worst ranked country in the world for students acquiring basic skills, a predicament largely linked to insufficient and poorly trained teachers. In response, Varkey Foundation, a non-profit organization, operates a USD 2 million program funded by the philanthropic organization Dubai Cares, called Train for Tomorrow Program (TFTP). Over the course of two years TFTP aims to improve 5,000 Ghanaian teachers' pedagogical methods and subject knowledge by offering regular interactive, activity-based training. This will initially be in person and will progress to an interactive distance learning solution via satellite. Solar powered computers are being used to prevent disruption by the power cuts regularly experienced in Ghana. The Varkey Foundation estimates that the annual cost of offering the TFTP is approximately USD 150 per teacher.

The Making Ghanaian Girls Great (MGGG) is another example of an initiative in Ghana, launched by GEMS Education, that offers two classrooms in every school with solar-powered computers and projectors through which real-time two-way interactive distance classes can take place. As of July 2014, MGGG was already delivering virtual classes to over 8,000 students in the Volta Region and Greater Accra Region of Ghana.

South Africa

In South Africa, Breadline Africa and Via Afrika have partnered to run a low-cost education solution by remodelling shipping containers in developing areas of the country into community education centres. These centres are each equipped with 15 Android tablet devices loaded with Via Afrika's latest educational programmes, applications and electronic textbooks. Since 1996, Breadline Africa has been able to transform 321 containers into facilities to be used by students. So far, containers have been turned into 94 classrooms, 68 libraries that store digital learning materials, 26 toilet facilities, and 75 kitchens. The converted libraries, for example create an opportunity for more than 40,000 children to access print rich material across all 9 provinces of South Africa.


The above examples demonstrate that non-state actors' involvement in providing low-cost educational opportunities can have the benefit of enhancing quality and piloting new and innovative approaches, and developing meaningful ties with students and their local communities.

The involvement of non-state actors in the education sector elicits unease in those who fear that the delegation of responsibility by the state will lead to profits taking precedence over public good, thereby exacerbating societal inequality. However, it is now widely acknowledged that non-state actors, whether in the private or charitable sectors, properly monitored and regulated in a transparent and enabling regulatory environment, are necessary partners in the improvement in educational attainment. They will be crucial against a backdrop of massive growth in Africa's young population and increasing pressure on state revenues.

Clyde & Co's education practice in Africa is lead by Ross Barfoot and Dawda Jawara and covers the whole of sub-Sahara Africa and South Africa. We advise commercial and not for profit operators, investors and Edtech companies on education projects and doing business across the continent. Our education team includes specialist advising on corporate, commercial, FDI, technology, intellectual property, regulatory, employment, real estate and construction, financing, projects and disputes.


1 The Demography of Educational Attainment and Economic Growth

The role of non-state actors in Africa's education sector

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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