Young girls in sub-Saharan Africa still find it just as difficult to continue their education: 55 million girls versus 49 million boys are out of school, according to the UNESCO World Report on Early School Leaving among Boys. However, in several countries where parity has been achieved, the situation has reversed in recent years, to the detriment of boys.
In Senegal e.g. “Boys were far less likely to drop out of school than girls in 1999. This trend reversed a decade later, in 2011, when more boys than girls dropped out of school: 113 boys for every 100 girls. In 2019, there were only 88 boys for every 100 girls enrolled in primary school,” explains franceinfo Africa Matthias Eck, expert on UNESCO’s education and equality program and co-author of the latest study by the UN organisation.
Gambia, Rwanda and Burundi are experiencing a situation similar to Senegal. In these countries “The poorest boys are now less likely than the poorest girls to complete primary education. In Lesotho, which has one of the world’s largest gender disparities to the detriment of boys, only 67 of the poorest boys out of 100 poorest girls complete primary education,” the expert continues. “Early school leaving is a growing phenomenon. What used to be a problem for rich countries, in this case those of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), has also become a problem in low- and middle-income countries”.
Poverty is still one of the main reasons for this trend. It encourages parents to let their children work to increase the family income. “In South African countries where fewer boys than girls complete primary and secondary education, particularly Lesotho and Namibia, boys are taken out of school very early to herd cattle or migrate to South Africa to work in the mines work.”claims Mathias Eck. Likewise, “Child labor is highest in sub-Saharan Africa. In Ethiopia, 51% of boys aged 5 to 17 work, as do Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Madagascar, where two-fifths or more of these boys work.”
Social and cultural constraints also contribute to aggravating this phenomenon, which is observed at all levels in sub-Saharan Africa: 32% in primary school, 30% in lower secondary education and 38% in upper secondary education. “Lesotho, explains the Unesco expertInitiation ceremonies underpin this transition into work and adulthood.” “Our children are forced by their peers to attend an initiation school, expresses regret to a father from the Lesotho Highlands whose testimony was collected as part of the UNESCO inquiry. Those who are not circumcised face discrimination from their friends. Because most of the boys in our community have attended initiation schools, they leave school earlier.” When it is not peer pressure, initiates exercise it themselves. “When they come back from the initiation schools, underscores another testimony they see themselves as men and cannot go to school with children (…). Boys must take initiation, get married, and have children after reaching a certain age in order for the child to grow up channeled in this way.”
Among the social norms that hinder boys from staying in school is the role ascribed to men of protecting and providing for the needs of their families. Little boys can also suffer from the prejudices of their teachers, who find them more turbulent than girls, and from the corporal punishment inflicted on them.
Increasing repetition around the world also encourages early school leaving among boys. In South Africa, Algeria, eSwatini, Lesotho, Morocco and Namibia, girls repeat less than their opposite sex peers. School dropout linked to youth unemployment in African countries is a time bomb in states where conflict or insecurity is on the rise. Boys are easy recruits for armed groups. “Countries with the highest proportions of young men aged 15-24 not in education, employment or training are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.”, says Matthias Eck. With a rate of 57%, Niger beats all records in the fight against jihadism and terrorism.