New research highlights need for global action on learning in Africa

Half of primary school age children in sub-Saharan Africa reach adolescence unable to read, write, or perform basic numeracy tasks.

Africa faces a twin crisis of access to education and quality of learning, according to a new Africa Learning Barometer from the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.

Covering 28 sub-Saharan countries, this first region-wide survey of learning on the continent estimates that 61 million children of primary school age – one in every two – will reach their adolescent years unable to read, write, or perform basic numeracy tasks.

At the same time, the number of out-of-school children in Africa – which already accounts for more than half of the global total of 61 million – is set to increase by more than 3 million by 2020. This marks an unfortunate reversal in impressive enrolment gains toward the Millennium Development Goals aim of universal primary education.

The Barometer is included in the Financial Times’s This Is Africa magazine, which has produced a special report on education, sponsored by Pearson, bringing together leading figures in business, policy and development.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, writing in the foreword to the report, welcomed the new research ahead of the September 26th launch of his Education First initiative, which aims to promote quality, relevant and inclusive global education.

"The data from the Africa Learning Barometer illustrates the urgent need for the international community to make education a top priority for the future of Africa’s growth, stability and prosperity," said Justin w. van Fleet, Brookings Fellow at the Center for Universal Education and a researcher behind the Barometer.

“Our projections show that 17 million children in Africa will never go to school and that one third of the 97 million children in Africa will go to school but not learn the basic skills they need to succeed in life.”

John Fallon, the Chief Executive of Pearson International, said:

“Demographics apart, one of the most important factors driving economic growth is educational attainment. Yet the Africa Learning Barometer shows there is a crisis in learning which requires urgent action by the governments, NGOs and businesses who want to see a stable and growing Africa.

“Tackling Africa’s learning crisis could help to lift many millions out of poverty across the continent just as surely as in China, India and Brazil.”

This Is Africa’s special report, including new data, articles from political leaders and experts, and video interviews, can be found at:

The full, interactive dataset of the Learning Barometer, can be accessed at

Notes to editors

For further information please contact: Brendan O’Grady on 020 7190 4146 or

About Pearson

Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, with more than 150 years of experience married with the very latest expertise in technology. Pearson’s educational resources, technology and assessment services support learning in more than 75 countries and over 100 languages. Learn more at

About This Is Africa

This Is Africa seeks to examine African business and politics in a global context and to make sense of the relationships that Africa is building with the rest of the world. It aims to challenge international preconceptions about the continent and to identify the opportunities and the risks in this dynamic business environment. This Is Africa is part of the Financial Times Ltd. For more information go to, or follow the conversation on twitter using #AfricaLearning.

About the Brookings Center for Universal Education

The Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution is one of the leading policy initiatives focused on universal quality education in the developing world. The Center develops and disseminates effective solutions to achieve equitable learning, whereby all children and youth are able to access a quality education that supports their lifelong learning and development. The Center plays a critical role in influencing the development of new international education policies and in transforming them into actionable strategies for governments, civil society and private enterprise. For more information, please visit