The question of private education constitutes a core issue, given the commitments made to education, current education conditions and the many challenges for the future in Sub-Saharan African countries. The state of private education in the region requires providing it with a better framework and giving it more incentives in order to improve access to education and its quality and equity. An in-depth analysis of the situation of States, households, private education operators and the financial sector is essential in order to modernize public policies on private education (d’Aiglepierre, 2013).

Rohen d'Aiglepierre
Rohen d'Aiglepierre

What are the challenges facing private education in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Despite States’ commitments to quality education for all and the significant strides that have been made over the last decade, the state of education in Sub-Saharan Africa continues to pose problems. There are heavy budgetary, organizational and institutional constraints, while these countries are facing an increase and diversification in education demand (UNESCO, 2012). This situation means that private education is a burning issue. Indeed, a closer partnership with the private sector could benefit countries in the region, particularly for post-primary education and the financial sustainability of education systems (Patrinos et al., 2009). However, the development of private education carries risks in terms of equity and quality (Kremer and Sarychev, 2000; Meuret et al., 2001). Consequently, Sub-Saharan African States all need to look at the potential and dangers of private education and seek appropriate responses.

What role for private education in Sub-Saharan Africa?

In reality, private education plays an essential role in the education sector in the region. In Sub-Saharan African countries, an average of 60% of pre-primary schoolchildren, 15% of primary schoolchildren and 21% of secondary schoolchildren are in schools run by private education operators (d’Aiglepierre, 2013). Private education, which manages some 22 million children, therefore plays a significant role. The number of children in private primary and secondary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa is lower than in other world regions. At the continental level, there are fewer children in private education in southern and northern countries than in West, East or Central Africa. Over the past decade, the number of children in private schools has increased. However, over the past 30 years, the private sector’s share in primary education has decreased significantly.



How does private education stand in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Any institution controlled and managed by a non-governmental entity, whatever the combination of public and private resources, may be considered as coming under private education (Kitaev, 2007; Larocque, 2008). Private education institutions therefore constitute an extremely heterogeneous category, with considerable differences in terms of purpose, the link with religion and State recognition. Education provision varies depending on contexts and the category of the institution. Private education is generally geographically more focused in urban areas and covers more education cycles than public institutions. Human, material and educational resources differ depending on contexts and the categories of private education. Similarly, the management and financing, whether by States, organizations representing private education, parents or other actors, vary considerably. While studies point more towards greater efficiency in private education institutions, empirical evidence still remains limited and extensive research is required in the specific context of Sub-Saharan Africa (Lewis and Patrinos, 2012).


How to modernize public policies for private education in Sub-Saharan Africa?

While private initiative holds strong potential in the education sector, the diagnostic of the current situation shows the need to modernize public policies on the sector (LaRoque, 2008; Patrinos et al., 2009, d’Aiglepierre, 2013). It is therefore important to understand how the system operates, identify the key actors and the links between them in order to determine what support is required:

  • Support for the State: As drivers of the education system, States must be in a position to initiate and provide a framework for the development of private education at the strategic, legislative and organizational levels. At the regulatory level, a clarification or simplification of legislation governing the organization and functioning of private education would allow a more effective development of private education institutions. From an organizational perspective, State bodies in charge of managing and supervising private education and training should be widely strengthened and be given the resources required for their mission. Finally, reliable and available information on private education should be produced and provided to all.
  • Support for households: Certain tools, such as scholarships or school vouchers, would have high added value for vulnerable students, where public provision is lacking. Quotas for free places could also be offered to children from low-income families in exchange for obtaining public subsidies. Parents’ associations in private education should be developed and supported in order to help oversee the activities of private operators.
  • Support for private operators: Support in terms of tools, training and coordination is required in order to improve the quality and equity of private education provision. The creation or strengthening of associations representing private operators is also an essential condition for the sector to operate effectively. The establishment of transnational networks would also allow economies of scale and a dissemination of educational innovations.
  • Support for banks: Financial and technical support to financial institutions would provide significant drivers in terms of convincing them of the interest of investing in private education. This support could be in the form of short-term technical assistance or appropriate financial instruments, such as loans or guarantee funds.


On all these issues, activities to support knowledge production would make it possible to capitalize on experience and disseminate innovations and good practices. In view of the future challenges for the development of Sub-Saharan African education systems, it would finally appear to be essential to clearly raise the question of private education and its coordination with the State.

Ed.: This opinion piece is taken from issue No. 20 of Proparco’s Private Sector & Development magazine



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

I subscribe to the ID4D newsletter

Once a week, I receive the latest blog posts!