The rise of private schooling in sub-Saharan Africa


Despite criticism from the United Nations and other organisations, the rise of private schooling in sub-Saharan Africa is in full effect. Critics argue African governments should focus on providing free education to everyone while urging investors to stop supporting private education schemes in African nations.

Governments and private investors should stop capitalising on the growing monopoly of education in these countries, the critics argue.

However, there is another side to this debate – one that appears to be gaining support. Existing programmes aiming to bring free education to African populations have two problems in common. First, they fall short of providing free education to everyone for various reasons. And, secondly, the quality of education, often because they stretch too far for their budgets to sustain.

Supporters of private education in Africa argue it can fill the gaps public education cannot – and raise the overall standard of education across the continent.


The public education problem

The education challenge in Africa is unique and varied across many different countries. You have to be careful when trying to sum up the entire situation in a single sentence that represents a huge region with rapidly growing populations.

The New-York-based Africa American Institute attempts to summarise the situation in its State of Education in Africa report:

“While more students are in school classrooms, there is a deeper learning crisis at play,” the report points out. “Many students are not gaining basic skills while attending school.”

That last point really highlights the core issue with education programmes across Africa. A worrying majority of them are insufficient, regardless of the progress they make. Alternatives need to explored and a growing number of experts argue that private schooling could provide one of the answers.

“The rise in private schools should not be seen as negative, but instead as a viable alternative to a failing public education system,” the report concludes.


Raising the bar with African education

Supporters of private education in Africa aren’t suggesting people shouldn’t have access to public schools. Instead, they argue the option of private schooling should also be an option – and it’s not only a question of providing education to everyone.

It’s also about improving the quality of education and the economic benefits of educated populations.

In Kenya, many public schools cram up to 100 children into a single classroom. However, the growth of private education in the country has seen an emergence of classrooms with fewer pupils who stand a better chance of gaining the basic skills needed for later on in life – and hopefully more.

As population growth reaches unsustainable levels, one of Africa’s biggest challenges is creating jobs for future generations, which makes such skills all the more important.


Public and private education

There are arguments on both sides of the fence regarding private education and that’s fair enough. However, it’s important we don’t fall into the trap of pitting public and private education against each other. It’s not a case of choosing one over the other. There is room for both in Africa’s young, rapidly growing populations.

Simply providing free education to all African children won’t be enough, unless the quality is sufficient. So far it isn’t. And, if private schools can ease the burden on public education and raise the overall standard of education across the continent, both sectors and their pupils could benefit.


Featured image: By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0,

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.