In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Data Sources and Organizations
  • Philosophies of Education
  • African “Traditions” and Education
  • Postcolonial Developments
  • Languages and Literacy
  • Children and Youth
  • Gender and Education
  • Politics and Student Activism
  • Ethnographies of Schooling
  • Curriculum and Teacher Education
  • Higher Education
  • Teaching Resources

African Studies Education
Amy Stambach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 December 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0213


Education in Africa refers to a number of social institutions and teaching practices, including government-run systems of schooling, religious instruction, and childhood socialization. Government-run systems of schooling follow a standardized timetable, curriculum, and examination system. European colonizers established schools to instruct and “civilize” Africans and, later, to educate a cadre of civil service personnel who would staff colonial offices. After independence, which occurred for most countries between 1956 and 1964, secondary school graduates and university-educated Africans often became government leaders of their countries. Religious instruction, as well as the many forms of child socialization and inculcation in Africa, pre-date government systems of schooling but increasingly have come to run parallel to them. Today, religious forms of schooling generally follow a timetable and include secular subjects. Literacy rates have improved, as has gender parity in primary schools, in that the number of girls and boys enrolled and able to read and write is roughly equal. Higher education is expanding rapidly in Africa, and student politics and student activism on campuses remain powerful forces, as they were in colonial times, for questioning political authority and foreign influences. As in all parts of the world, adults in Africa socialize children and youth into norms and practices, both through explicit instruction and through learning-by-doing everyday activities. The cultural forms these lessons take often derive from age-old rituals and stories that vary considerably across the continent. On the other hand, children and young people socialize themselves into new communities, often using social media to do so.

General Overviews

One observation frequently made about education in Africa is that while enrollment numbers have grown since independence, the quality of education varies widely. Johnson 2007 discusses issues of equity and quality regarding literacy and gender, while Harber 2015, Takyi-Amoako 2016, and Wolhuter 2015 provide country-by-country overviews and comparisons of school enrollment patterns and policies. Lewis 2014 makes the strongest case for supporting education in Africa through the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

  • Johnson, David, ed. The Changing Landscape of Education in Africa: Quality, Equality and Democracy. Oxford: Symposium Books, 2007.

    This collection addresses issues of school quality, gender equity, language and literacy, and primary school policies in early-21st-century Africa.

  • Harber, Clive, ed. Education in southern Africa. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

    A concise introduction to education patterns, curricula, and issues in Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, with each chapter written by a specialist working in that particular country.

  • Lewis, Susan Grant. Education in Africa. Philadelphia: Mason Crest, 2014.

    Written by the Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, this work offers detailed chapters on education financing, democratic participation, and education inequalities.

  • Takyi-Amoako, Emefa, ed. Education in West Africa. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

    Investigates education in eighteen West African countries, focusing on current trends and potential directions each country might pursue.

  • Wolhuter, Charl, ed. Education in East and Central Africa. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

    A clear and concise introduction to education patterns, curricula, and issues in Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tomé, Principé, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, each chapter written by a specialist working in that country.

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