Introduced towards the end of the 19th century, the Ivoirian education system was based on the French system and set up to educate interpreters and clerks in the colonial administration. The system comprises six years of primary education and seven years in secondary school, concluding with the baccalaureate exam in the final year. The national curriculum is largely planned by the state and exams are coordinated through the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Vocational Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. Private and religious schools play a smaller but notable role in providing education, including a growing number of Koranic schools that are appearing in the relatively less-served areas of the country, including low-income urban areas and the northern, western and south-western regions.

PRIORITISING: In the 1980s education became a government priority and was allocated almost a third of national spending in 1985. By 1988 the country had increased its overall literacy rate to 43%, with a 53% male literacy rate and a 31% female literacy rate. The success of government programmes led Côte d’Ivoire to be considered a model for education for the region. However, public resources declined in the 1990s due to population growth, the devaluation of the African franc and the deteriorating terms of trade for Ivoirian exports, shrinking education spending from 40% of the national budget in 1989/90 to 22.6% in 2001/02. In July 2001 the government of President Laurent Gbagbo introduced a series of reforms to address shortcomings in the sector, which included an increase in teachers’ salaries, the introduction of compulsory education until 11th grade, the reduction of primary school costs through the elimination of uniforms and the provision of free public education through the 10th grade. The reforms successfully elevated the status of teachers and reduced informal costs, such as for uniforms, but progress was stalled by an attempted coup in September 2002 and the ensuing civil war.

PRESCHOOL: During the academic year 2010/11, there were 1181 preschools in Côte d’Ivoire, of which 772 were public, 445 private and 14 community-run. Some 74,709 children were enrolled, with 37,560 boys and 37,149 girls. More than 50% of students attended public institutions, with 44,143 children attending public schools and 29,742 students going to private schools. With 2627 preschool teachers, the pupil-to-teacher ratio was one teacher per 16.8:1 in the public system compared to 18.2:1 in the private school system, which employed 1638 teachers.

The end of the conflict in 2011 facilitated the reopening and reconstruction of 177 schools, of which the majority were public. Political stability also encouraged a 22.3% increase in enrolment figures to 91,393, with 45,898 male and 45,495 female students, while 62.3% of students attended public schools and 35.9% attended private schools.

However, improvements in enrolment figures concealed notable regional disparities. Out of every 100 preschool children, 16 lived in rural areas while the remainder lived in urban areas. Within urban areas, nearly 50% of pupils attended schools in Abidjan. The return of instructors to their former positions along with the employment of new teachers facilitated a 15% increase in educators, with 3086 and 1783 teachers employed in the public and private preschool systems, respectively. Nevertheless, increased enrolment figures have outpaced hiring practices, leading to an increase in the student-to-teacher ratio in the public system to 18.9:1, while the private school average fell to 17.9:1.

PRIMARY SCHOOL: During the 2010/11 academic year, the country had 11,638 primary schools, of which 10,123 were public, 1296 were private, and 219 were community schools. A total of 2,704,458 children were enrolled in primary schools, with 1,478,174 boys and 1,226,284 girls. Among these, 548,406 children were repeating a grade, of which 44.7% were girls, although repeat rates were similar in public, private and community establishments. During that same year, a total of 65,228 teachers were employed by primary schools, with a student-toteacher ratio of 41.7:1 in the public school system and a ratio of 42.3:1 in the private school system.

CHANGES: The end of the conflict supported an expansion in the number of primary school facilities to 12,482 as student registration figures jumped to 2,920,791, representing an 8% increase in enrolment. Around 5000 new teachers were employed, largely in the private sector, bringing the number of primary school teachers up to 70,016 and increasing the public school student-to-teacher ratio to 43:1 while significantly lowering this ratio to 35:1 in private schools. The drop in the average student-toteacher ratio in private schools is also partly accounted for by the fact that only 12% of primary school children were taught in the private school system in 2011/12, while 86% of children attended public schools. Yet, 18 out of 34 school districts had an average of more than 40 students per class. The lowest ratio was 28:1 in the western region of Touba, while the highest ratio was 49:1 in the southern and midwestern regions of Divo and Daloa. A relative scarcity of teachers partly accounts for an elevated rate in students repeating grades, with slightly more than 30% of students repeating the last year of primary school during 2011/12. Repeating students are partly the consequence of school closures and the displacement of children during the previous school year as a result of the conflict.

SECONDARY SCHOOL: In contrast to primary school, the secondary system is dominated by private institutions, which total 899 out of 1206 secondary schools, leaving 307 schools under the domain of the state. Student participation drops off heavily between primary and secondary school, with less than half of the primary school graduates continuing to secondary school. During 2010/11, 1,146,835 children attended secondary school, of which almost 70% went to private schools and 14% were repeat students. Within public schools, the average student-to-teacher ratio was 40.3:1, while the private school average was slightly lower at 37.1:1.

During the 2011/12 academic year, following the end of the conflict, efforts to boost primary school resources were not matched in the secondary school system. Only nine secondary schools were established during the year and the number of students actually decreased by 1.3% from 1,146,835 to 1,132,464, although the number of repeaters increased 19.8% to 195,231 students. This trend is arguably attributable to growing poverty, as many students who were forced to leave school during the crisis were unable to return due to constraints on family finances, obliging children to work instead of continuing their education. Nevertheless, although public schools experienced a 76.8% increase in the number of students, pupils benefitted from a 97.9% rise in teachers, ensuring that the student-to-teacher ratio fell to around 36:1. A decline in private school student numbers from 788,126 to 498,154 in 2011/12 was also accompanied by a decline in privately employed teachers, although the student-toteacher ratio dropped slightly to 37:1. The decline in private school attendance can be partly attributed to the reopening and construction of free public schools and the addition of almost 2000 new public classrooms and 8717 public school teachers.

NOTABLE DIFFERENCE: An examination of the national student-to-teacher ratio average reveals serious differences between the first and second cycles of secondary school. During the 2011/12 academic year, the national average of students per class in the first cycle (age 12-15) was 70 but ranged from an average of 53 per class in Touba to 89 per room in Soubré due to an overall lack of infrastructure and resources. During the second cycle (age 16-18), the national average for the number of students per class was 42, but ranged from 27 in Mankono to 63 in Boundiali. Significant regional disparities exist in favour of urban inhabitants, with approximately 31% of secondary students currently attending school in Abidjan.

Despite minor improvements in the percentage of students completing the first cycle of secondary school, large efforts will be necessary in order to increase the number of children that move on to the second cycle. Over the past three academic years, male student graduation from the first cycle peaked at 40.5% in 2008/09, dropping slightly in 2010/11 before rising again to 40% in 2011/12. Female success rates are significantly lower, but they have made small gains, showing an increase from 26.5% in 2008/09 to 28.7% in 2011/12.

PERFORMANCE: Political instability during the 2000s and onwards had serious consequences for the Ivoirian education system. According to the World Bank, between 2003 and 2006, school closures and teaching shortages resulted in an increase in the primary student-to-teacher ratio from 42.4:1 to 46.1:1, which dropped temporarily in 2007 but rose to 48.8:1 in 2011 following the outbreak of violence early that year. In 2011 many schools were closed, leaving almost 800,000 children waiting to attend classes. Although temporary schools were set up by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) like UNICEF during both conflicts, periodic delays in access to education over the decade led to an increasing number of primary school children out of class, rising from 472,234 boys and 652,911 girls in 2003 to 496,923 boys and 663,809 girls in 2009, though population growth may partially account for the rise.

Strife also limited improvements in the national literacy rate, which stood at 56.2% in 2010, compared with the average of 62.6% for developing sub-Saharan African countries. During the recent conflict, approximately 60% of teachers fled their posts due to insecurity issues. Prior to government hiring efforts in 2011, overcrowding characterised schools that remained open, as children from rebel-controlled regions fled south, and high student-to-teacher ratios persisted in 2011/12.

The absence of teachers, educational facilities and resources eroded the quality of education provided. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, by November 2011 the pass rate for secondary school admission examinations was 57%, declining from the previous average of 70%. The Baccalaureate pass rate also fell from 34% to 21%.

POVERTY: With more than a fifth of the population living below the poverty line, the political upheaval imposed a serious financial burden on Ivoirian families in the form of rising unemployment, bank closures and soaring food prices. According to UNICEF, economic difficulties have contributed to low school attendance rates by obliging many children to work instead of going to school. Although public education is free, parents often face hidden costs for things like school uniforms and books, with informal fees varying from CFA2000 (€3) to up to CFA23,000 (€34.5), depending on the region and the type of school. While organisations such as UNICEF distributed school bags with necessary supplies during the conflict, NGOs were unable to aid every student.

“Since 2002 the provision of education has been complicated by political strife that caused the government to lose control of many regions. The state has thus been unable offer certain services; the economic impact of the crisis left many families unable to pay the same school fees applied nationwide,” said Aïda N’Diaye, human development manager at the National Committee for Côte d’Ivoire’s Eligibility to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (an independent US foundation that provides monetary assistance to developing countries working to improve key indicators in governance, economic management, and health and education). Children in isolated rural communities are further disadvantaged because many are not issued birth certificates when they are born, creating administrative barriers to their education.

GROWING TENDENCY: A 2010 report by the US Institute of Peace concluded that Côte d’Ivoire’s political crises may play a role in inciting future conflicts by depriving northern-born children of educational and employment opportunities, thus fuelling resentment among disadvantaged youth and priming society for future conflicts. Although the national youth literacy rate increased from 60.72% in 2001 to 67% in 2010, the figure masks significant disparities in educational attainment levels between rebeloccupied zones located in the northern, central and western regions, and the government-controlled areas in the south.

During the two conflicts, schools were closed throughout the nation, most notably in rebel-controlled territories, and children who were unable to flee to southern schools were forced to either postpone or abandon their education. In 2004 the Ministry of Education estimated that 50% of children in the northern regions were deprived of access to education, while only 20% of public teachers in the north remained in their posts or returned to them by 2007. Continued insecurity until 2012 as well as damaged educational facilities stymied the recovery of the north’s education system, hindering the education of generations of students and limiting their ability to find desirable jobs.

GOVERNMENT PRIORITIES: To rehabilitate the education system, the Ivoirian government pledged CFA810bn (€1.22bn) over the next few years. Over the next five years, the government aims to provide access to primary education for 100% of primaryschool-aged children, with the objective of ensuring that within 10 years 100% of children will enrol in the first cycle of secondary school. School will be provided to all children for free up to the age of 15, and informal costs will be eliminated to lessen the financial burden that is placed upon parents.

To address the estimated shortage of 12,000 teachers in the primary public school system, the state will recruit and train 60,000 teachers at a rate of 12,000 per year while establishing new teaching institutions to complement continuing instructor training and solidifying payment contracts for teachers. A system will be implemented to eliminate the disbursement of false diplomas by centralising information that details the students who have received diplomas and severely sanctioning violators. Around 36,000 classrooms will be built by 2015, with particular emphasis on secondary schools and on regions that do not have primary schools within 5 km. Current classrooms and schools will be renovated, and primary and secondary schools will be fitted out with IT and internet access.

Plans have also been made to reorganise the examination system while expanding the preschool education system and establishing support mechanisms for children whose studies were adversely impacted by the crises. Spearheaded by the first lady, government ministries are also coordinating efforts to eliminate child labour, which deters school attendance, while the Ministry of Interior is preparing an initiative to regularise rural-born children by providing them with birth certificates.

EDUCATION OF GIRLS: Despite an increase in primary school enrolment figures in 2011/12, there remained a gender disparity in favour of male students, with boys accounting for 54% of pupils compared to girls at 46%. Although gains have been made over the past three academic years in the primary school achievement rate, indicators remain low, with only 51.5% of female students reaching the last grade of primary school in 2011/12, up from 48.5% in 2008/09. According to the World Bank, improvements made between 2008/09 and 2011/12 also remain limited relative to previous years, where in 2006, 66.5% of girls reached the last year of primary school. Few girls continue their education beyond primary school; during 2010/11, only 39.31% of secondary school students were girls, with little improvement in 2011/12.

Improving girls’ access to education is a priority for both the state and the MCC, an independent US foundation that provides monetary assistance to developing countries working to improve key indicators in governance, economic management, and health and education. Three strategies have been developed to raise girls’ primary education completion rate from 42% at the end of 2011 to 70% by 2014. A national programme was launched in 2012 to educate the population on the importance of girls attending school, encouraging coordination between national education inspectors and local administrative officials, mayors and religious leaders.

Another strategy specifically targets the financial vulnerability of parents by providing women with daughters with a source of employment in fields such as agriculture to enable them to support their children through school. Where maternal support programmes are not feasible, the government has pledged to provide scholarships to 2000 female students for lunches at a cost of CFA25 (€0.44) per pupil. Support also exists for initiatives to construct establishments to house female students who must travel long distances to attend school during the week, and a government study is being conducted to evaluate the need for this type of facility.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Côte d’Ivoire’s three main universities were forced to close in April 2011 through 2012, postponing the education of the country’s 85,000 estimated university students. A great deal of damage was done to several universities, prompting a state-led reconstruction programme projected to cost at least $220m spread among five universities, a sum three times larger than the original estimate. Reopened in September 2012, the University of Abidjan-Cocody was renamed after the nation’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and contains 140 buildings over 200 ha, including new lecture halls, student residences, libraries, and sports facilities connected by a fibre-optic network. The other main universities, the University of AboboAdjamé and Bouaké University, have also been renamed Nangui-Abrogoua University and Alassane Ouattarra University, respectively.

To lower student-to-teacher ratios from as high as 80:1 to between 25:1 and 30:1, 100 new professors and administrators were hired for the Félix Houphouët-Boigny University and 30 for the Nangui-Abrogoua University. However, administrative challenges remain to enrol and re-enrol students in the wake of the destruction of higher education records during the conflict. Speaking to Agence France-Presse in October 2012, the Minister of Higher Education Ibrahima Cissé Bacongo told OBG, “This is not just renovation. We have been obliged to build from the bottom up because everything was looted, broken and vandalised. ”

Other government priorities include the establishment of three new universities in Man, San Pédro and Boundoukou to facilitate access to higher education for students isolated from established universities. In addition, the state will also reorganise the higher education system by the three-tier degree system and eliminate an estimated 2000 to 5000 “professional” students by restricting pupils to only one year to repeat courses.

“The integration of the licence-master-doctorate (LMD) system will boost the competitiveness of Ivoirian students while allowing students to better respond to the needs of local, regional and international job markets,” Mamourou Touré, who serves as the administrative and financial director at l‘École de Commerce et de Gestion, told OBG.

JOB TRAINING: According to the Ministry of Higher Education, at least 50% of university graduates find employment that does not correspond to their university degree. Despite a youth unemployment rate of 50%, many employers are also unable to find graduates that have the skills and training to succeed in certain disciplines, prompting the state to provide additional internship opportunities to graduates.

OUTLOOK: The Ivoirian education system remains hindered by a lack of physical and human resources, adversely impacting the quality and supply of education. Major initiatives have been launched under the current National Development Plan to address educational shortages, particularly in the disadvantaged northern and western regions. While promising, the success of educational ventures will depend on sustained efforts to empower girls and children living in formerly rebel-controlled zones and on the preservation of political stability in the country.