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More kids enroll in private school as Africa's middle class grows

Flickr- USAID

“From better health to increased wealth, education is the catalyst of a better future for millions of children, youth and adults.” - Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

But what if education for your child means unqualified teachers, overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and inadequate infrastructure? These conditions are hardly conducive to learning, yet this is the reality for many students across the African continent. And according to academics, these state run schools have left millions unable to pursue careers outside of manual labor.

At the same time, Africa is experiencing a growing middle class, allowing for more parents to afford private education. Wanjiru Muchiri spends nearly $6,000 USD a year to send her three children to private school in Nairobi, Kenya. She explains, “For me it is the numbers. There are too many children in the classes and, of course, there's not much attention given to [an individual] child.”

That sentiment is echoed by Clifford Bannerman-Lawson, who spends $2,000 USD to put his child in school in Ghana. "If you take two children, one from a private school and one from public, there is a vast difference,” he says. (Note to European readers, private school in this statement and article means schools not run/funded by the government)

To meet the growing demand for tuition based schools that are independent of the government, education businesses are popping up in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, leading some to believe that African countries could soon rival Asian countries like India for school investors.

These private schools are pulling in the big bucks, with school fees costing anywhere between $2,000-$16,000 USD a year. That’s why firms like Britain’s Pearson are increasing their investments in emerging-market ventures to provide schools.

Katelyn Donnelly, the head of Pearson's Affordable Learning Fund, explains, "By any metric - demographic growth, economic growth - or by demand for better educational outcomes, the circumstances are ripe for African education to significantly improve in the next two decades."

Improved education? One word: awesome.

However, the boom in private schools isn’t awesome for everyone. For many parents, paying the school fees for books and uniforms at public, government financed schools is hard enough. Gladys Mahlake is one of these parents. Her son attends Masiqhakaze Secondary School in South Africa, because she cannot afford private school. "If I had a choice, I would send my child to a better school," she said.

While it’s wonderful to learn that more children will have access to a quality education thanks to these new independent schools, the world can’t turn its back on those who can’t afford it.  Globally, 58 million children still lack access to primary school, and those who are lucky enough to receive an education oftentimes have to deal with barriers such as dilapidated classrooms and overwhelmed teachers. This must change.

Increasing access to quality education is our number one weapon to eradicating extreme poverty. To that end, it’s our role as global citizens to encourage world leaders to extend education to all.