Investment in public education has stalled over the past several decades, impeded first by the debt crisis of the 1980s and then by the outbreak of civil war. As Koffi N’Guessan, head of studies for the directorate of planning, evaluation and statistics at the Ministry of National Education and Technical Training (Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de l’Enseignement Technique, MENET), explained, “During the 1980s, and continuing into the 1990s, the government had to re-direct spending to manage the debt burden. As a result, the state did not have the resources to invest in social services such as education. With the coup d’état in 1999 and the military crisis that followed, state resources for education were even scarcer. Now that stability has returned, the government is able to focus on rebuilding the education sector.” During more than a decade of political turmoil, school buildings were damaged and supplies pillaged. Many schools closed down, largely due to the absence of students, but also for lack of supplies lost to looting. As political stability has been restored, the government is prioritising public education, but significant investment will be required to meet the educational needs of the growing population.
The post-electoral crisis of 2011 further disrupted education services and widened regional disparities in the public sector. According to the 2012-14 Education Sector Medium-Term Action Plan (Plan d’Actions à Moyen Terme, PAMT), a joint strategy document of the three education ministries, the western region bore the brunt of school closures, accounting for 91%. Likewise, of the at least 1899 school cafeterias that closed due to a lack of provisions, 46% were in the west and central-west regions, while 38% were in the north. At the height of the crisis, the PAMT estimates that as many as 1m children were displaced from school, along with thousands of teachers.
The education sector is jointly administered by the MENET, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, MESRS), and the Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs and Vocational Training (Ministère de l’Emploi, des Affaires Sociales, et de la Formation Professionelle, MEASFP).
While expanding access to public education at the primary and secondary levels is the core of the government’s education strategy, efforts are also being made in the areas of vocational training and youth employment. To shore up the infrastructural deficit in the public education sector, the government plans to rehabilitate 30,000 damaged classrooms and construct 25,000 classrooms at the preschool and primary levels. To address the staffing shortages, the government aims to recruit 25,000 new primary school teachers and 4000 new secondary school teachers. Efforts in this regard are well under way; according to N’Guessan, “The government has conducted several rounds of entrance exams in recent months to recruit new teachers. There is a strong willingness on the part of the government to respond to basic education needs.”
According to the Global Partnership for Education, the government continued its policy of free primary education during the 2012/13 school year, and also distributed school kits to primary school students. To fund infrastructure and hiring initiatives, the National Assembly has voted to boost the MENET budget from CFA501.87bn (€752.8m) in 2013 to CFA564.82bn (€847.2m) in 2014, a 12.5% rise.
While the public sector remains dominant in primary education provision, a statistical analysis published by the MENET indicates that the private sector has grown in recent decades to absorb 13% of the market. According to UNESCO, girls represent 45% of enrolled students, revealing a gender disparity somewhat more pronounced than the sub-Saharan African average of 48%, and among the lowest level in West Africa. The private sector does a slightly better job of enrolling girls, at 47.9%. As in sub-Saharan Africa generally, gross-to-net enrolment ratios are high for both boys (96%/67%) and girls (80%/56%), indicating that many students enter school late and remain in primary school well beyond the normal age range, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Once in school, Ivorian students have a much higher risk of repeating a grade than their counterparts in the region, according to UNESCO’s 2013 figures.
Although Côte d’Ivoire is not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, it has made notable progress in completion rates of primary school pupils in recent years. According to the MENET, the primary school completion rate for boys in the 2012/13 school year was 58% (52% for girls), nearly 10 percentage points higher than that of the 2008/09 academic year, at 48.5% (41% for girls).
Weak government investment in education is particularly visible at the secondary level, where according to the MENET, the private sector educates 48% of all students, over three times the sub-Saharan African average, which according to UNESCO statistics stands at 15.6%. Underinvestment has led to a pronounced infrastructural deficit in the public sector. While public schools educate slightly more than half of the student population, they represent only 26% of all secondary schools and 37.8% of all secondary school classrooms, resulting in an average public sector ratio of 81 students per classroom, according to the MENET. By comparison, the private sector student-to-classroom ratio is 46. Gender parity in secondary education is low, in line with acute gender inequalities throughout the West Africa region. MENET statistics show that 40% of all secondary students are girls.
Relative to its neighbours in the region, Côte d’Ivoire has a large number of universities and specialised colleges, spanning both the public and private sectors. Abidjan is home to two public universities, Félix Houphouët-Boigny University and Nangui Abrogoua University, as well as specialised colleges. Bouaké, Korhogo and Daola each also host a public university. The largest Ivorian university is Félix Houphouët-Boigny University, formerly Cocody University, which currently enrols some 60,000 students.
During the 2011 conflict, the public universities in Abidjan suffered extensive infrastructural damage and looting, and Félix Houphouët-Boigny University (then Cocody University) was the site of violent clashes. The universities were rapidly rebuilt, and re-named, in time to open in September 2012, but the post-conflict resumption of classes posed numerous challenges. Chief among them was the loss of academic records and the size of the cohort to be enrolled. While regular classes have since been re-established, student riots at Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in early 2014 reveal lingering frustration with the quality of university infrastructure and services.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to combine reform with reconstruction, the government has mandated the transition to the three-tier degree system of higher education.
Currently under way, the transition will bring Côte d’Ivoire’s university structure in line with international standards and increase the mobility and competitiveness of its graduates. “The traditional system ensured a general education whereas the licence-master-doctorate (LMD) system emphasises practical learning and professionalisation one year after obtaining the secondary school baccalaureate. The traditional system put graduates on the market that the market could not immediately absorb,” said Soulaymane Soumahoro, director of studies at the Ecole de Commerce et de Gestion-ECG in Abidjan. Regarding the improved opportunities for Ivorian students to pursue education and career paths internationally, Soumahoro said, “The LMD system is more dynamic than the traditional education system in which the degree equivalency certification had become a business opportunity for some schools and a handicap for the students.”
As a consequence of years of civil war and instability, Côte d’Ivoire is burdened with both high unemployment and underemployment, particularly among its youth population. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), half of Côte d’Ivoire’s 772,000 unemployed youth (ages 15-34) lack qualifications. Even among those with a tertiary degree, unemployment is 38%. Professionally trained youth fare better, but still face an unemployment rate of 23%. While the 9.1% economic growth rate forecast by the World Bank for 2014 will contribute to expanded employment opportunities, sustaining high growth rates and reducing unemployment and underemployment will ultimately depend on bringing the skills and training of the labour force into alignment with market demands.
According to the AfDB, 27% of Ivorian businesses believe that the shortage of good quality labour limits their competitiveness – a figure considerably higher than the average for the West African Economic and Monetary Union. In recognition of the problem, and in collaboration with international partners, the government has launched initiatives to provide youth with the skills they need to enter the labour force. The World Bank-funded Emergency Youth Employment and Skills Development Project runs until mid-2015 and aims to provide unskilled or under-skilled youths their first job or training opportunity. Under the project’s labour-intensive public works component, 12,500 young Ivorians are hired on six-month contracts to work on road maintenance in 16 cities across the country. The recruits also receive training to help them transition to sustainable employment. Another initiative, the Youth Employability and Insertion Support Programme, is the focus of an AfDB loan agreement for $21.34m, together with a $7.56m grant, which was approved by the bank’s board of directors in December 2013. The programme seeks to improve the employability of those with qualifications from professional training and higher education, as well as the integration of unemployed young people into the economy.
Further reforms to vocational education are also expected to help tackle the twin problems of youth unemployment and underemployment. In a system that is unique within the West Africa region, Côte d’Ivoire uses public funds to subsidise the mostly private vocational education system. This arrangement has created a lack of accountability in terms of vocational programmes preparing graduates for the labour market. Because vocational institutions are state-subsidised, they have little impetus to work closely with private sector employers to align their training programmes with hiring needs. Very few institutions have mechanisms in place to track the success of their graduates. This is set to change: “The government is set to put a greater focus on training and vocational programmes in order to answer the needs of the job market,” Saliou Touré, president of the International University of Grand-Bassam, told OBG.
The vocational training certificate (brevet de technicien supérieur, BTS) includes a mandatory element of practical training in the form of a professional internship. However, many students are unable to complete this requirement because for certain specialisations the demand for internships outstrips available opportunities. At the same time, the system disadvantages employers in underserved sectors, mostly technical, such as carpentry, electrical work and mechanics, as the vocational training offered is skewed toward professions such as human resources, communications and clerical professions. “To offer a true technical training, an institute must first invest in a workshop, high-quality machinery and equipment, but, the means for investment are often limited,” Séraphin Kati-Coulibaly, managing director of scientific research and technological innovation at the MESRS, told OBG. But things are beginning to change, said Kati-Coulibaly. “We realised that there was a serious misalignment between vocational education and employment that was affecting the employability of young graduates. So, the BTS system was reorganised such that specialisations with a low degree of employability were eliminated in favour of specialisations for which there was a high market demand but few graduates.” Before this BTS reform, there were around 60 specialisations, and now there are about 30, which respond better to market needs.
Comprising 30 institutes and centres of research, Côte d’Ivoire’s scientific research sector is diverse and highly collaborative. While France is Côte d’Ivoire’s most frequent partner for scientific collaboration, others include Switzerland, Italy, the UK, the US and Canada, as well as Burkina Faso.
The MESRS relies heavily on private sector investment and joint ventures with other state and non-state organisations to implement projects. One example is an EU-funded agribusiness research project for which Félix Houphouët-Boigny University is collaborating with a network of other African universities. At the national level, the country has signed accords with the governments of the Congo and Algeria, among others, to promote student exchanges, while other countries, notably Japan and Korea, offer scholarship programmes for Ivorian students. Scholarships offered under the Strategic Support Programme for Scientific Research, financed by the Ivoiro-Swiss Fund for Economic and Social Development, offer grants of up to CFA15m (€22,500) to 100 doctoral students annually.
Côte d’Ivoire is also participating in an initiative of UNESCO’s Science Policy Information Network to review and reinforce the laws, financing mechanisms and the institutional framework underpinning scientific research in order to further support the field.
If Côte d’Ivoire is to harness the development potential of its impressive growth rate, it will need to further extend access to basic education to ensure the enrolment of rural children and girls. Free public primary schooling, the construction of classrooms, and the hiring of teachers reveal the government’s commitment to improving the sector, but long-term gains will require sustained prioritisation and a greater allocation of public finances. The reorganisation of the BTS system is a positive sign for youth employment levels; if coupled with increased oversight of the vocational sector and more collaboration between employers and trainers, the system could go a long way toward aligning supply and demand in the labour market.