Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in rebuilding its education system since the political situation in the country stabilised, with various initiatives bearing fruit. This is evidenced by the number of new schools, the recruitment drive for teachers and legislation making school compulsory for children aged six to 16. As a result of investment and reforms, enrolment at primary schools has climbed steadily.
However, the limited number of secondary schools, universities and other tertiary institutions presents an obstacle to expanding enrolment. For now, the government is relying on private institutions to meet rising student demand. In the longer run, it seeks to expand the sector’s capacity by implementing innovative education technology (edtech) solutions such as distance learning and encouraging students to explore alternative career paths through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions.
Structure & Oversight
The education system in Côte d’Ivoire is made up of government and private institutions and community-run schools. The system dates back to the French colonial period and covers preschool (three years), primary education (six years), general secondary education (four years) and high school (three years). After high school, students take a national-level exam known as the baccalaureate to gain access to higher education.
The majority of secondary, higher education and vocational institutes are private, while most preschools and primary schools are public. With the proliferation of high-quality private educational institutions, there is a high degree of competition for students.
Expanding access to education and improving teaching quality are top priorities in the government’s Vision 2030 development programme and the current five-year National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND) 2021-25. The latter is built on five pillars to help the country realise its goal of being a dominant West African market with a strong industrial base and high living standards. The key components of the plan are to promote sustainable and inclusive social and economic growth, and provide training and opportunities for the next generation. Currently, more than one-third of the government’s annual budget is allocated to social expenditure, with a concentration on education, health and gender equality.
Additionally, the government has established a 10-year education sector plan known as the Education and Training Sector Plan (Plan Sectoriel Education/ Formation, PSE) 2016-25, which works in conjunction with the PND 2021-25. Some $1.4bn had been allocated for investment as part of the PSE for the 2017-20 term, with primary, general secondary, technical and higher education receiving the majority of the funding.
The government continues to invest in education, even though its budget allocation has plateaued in recent years. Education spending as a percentage of overall government spending dropped from 22.3% in 2016 to a low of 15% in 2020, before slightly increasing to 15.3% in 2021. For 2022 the sector was allocated CFA1.1trn ($1.9bn), down from CFA1.4trn ($2.4bn) in 2021. However, the government has pledged to increase the education budget for 2023 to CFA1.7trn ($2.9bn). In 2022 much of the government’s investment is going towards the construction of seven technical schools and two universities, and the expansion of a nationwide school meals programme.
Since the government passed a compulsory education law in September 2015 requiring any child over the age of six to attend school, there has been an increase in the number of pre-primary institutions. In 2015/16 there were 2223 preschools and this number increased to 3475 institutions in 2019/20. In the 2019/20 academic year public preschools accounted for about 69% of preschools, followed by private (27.5%) and community-run institutions (3.5%). Although the number of preschool facilities and teachers has grown, relatively few families take advantage of these educational opportunities. According to data published by the Ministry of Education and Literacy (Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de l’Alphabé tisation, MENA), 244,357 children attended preschool in the 2019/20 school year, representing 10.4% of the country’s estimated population of children between the ages of three and five.
In comparison, primary school attendance is higher. In the 2019/20 school year an estimated 4.1m children – approximately 98% of the eligible population – attended primary school. Enrolment climbed by 17.3% between 2015 and 2020. Over this same period the number of primary schools expanded from 15,547 to 18,258, with the private sector growing twice as fast as public institutions.
While the government has prioritised primary education, allocating more than 40% of its education budget to it, the need for improving broader learning outcomes and student performance is well understood. According to a 2021 UNICEF policy briefing, 17% of Ivorian students leaving primary school had achieved a minimum proficiency level in maths and 40% had attained proficiency in reading. These figures were below the average for West and Central African nations and substantially lower than the levels achieved by countries such as Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, which invest less in education.
There were 2331 secondary schools in the country as of the 2019/20 academic year, up from 1479 in 2015/16. Over the same period the number of students in classrooms climbed from 28,357 to 34,946. However, a closer look at regional enrolment shows significant variation. For example, in 2019/20 net enrolment rates for high school were about 30% in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, but as low as 5% in rural regions like Bafing, Folon and Worodougou.
Given the comparatively low government investment in secondary education and quality assurance issues, as well as lack of choice, it is perhaps unsurprising that many parents opt for private schools. Furthermore, while the government has focused on improving state provision of primary education, it has also actively encouraged the private provision of secondary education.
Private institutions now dominate the secondary school market, and many of them are helping the system manage rising enrolment rates. While the number of students in each classroom at public primary schools declined from 44 to 39 between 2016 and 2018, the classroom size in public middle schools climbed from 70 to 76, and the number of students in public high school classrooms increased from 50 to 58. In 2019/20 the teacher-to-student ratio was 1:46 for middle schools and 1:35 for high schools.
While the increase in the number of private schools has helped meet growing demand for secondary education, it also requires investment in teacher training to ensure quality instruction. According to a 2021 report by the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there is limited oversight of private schools and up to 50% of teachers do not have the proper licensing required by the state. To address these concerns, MENA has been collaborating with government stakeholders and international partners to design new education policies to improve accountability and regulations for the private education sector.
In recent years the number of students accepted to public universities has remained constant as the system has continued to face capacity constraints. In 2021/22 a total of 69,332 baccalaureate holders applied to study at public universities. However, the seven public universities had room for 19,620 students, or 28.3% of applicants. In response, the government has built additional universities, such as the University of San Pedro, which welcomed 450 undergraduate students in the 2021/2022 school year and will eventually house over 20,000 students.
While the government is committed to accommodating qualified applicants and improving quality at public universities, the higher education sector relies heavily on private universities and colleges to absorb many high school graduates. In 2020/21 private higher education institutions accepted 59,863 students, or 76.8% of high school baccalaureate applicants, a decline from 62,624 in 2019/20, likely due to Covid-19 secondary education system disruptions. In 2020/21, 27% of the students accepted into private higher education institutions enrolled in degree-granting programmes, while the remaining 73% were assigned to large private colleges for short-term technical training.
Private higher education institutions are generally more expensive, charging students up to CFA1m ($1720) per year, compared to CFA30,000 ($51.57) for undergraduate courses, CFA60,000 ($103) for master’s studies and CFA90,000 ($155) for doctoral programmes at public universities. Increasing costs and rising demand for admittance have opened the door for new institutions to compete on price and ability to help graduates secure employment. “Engaging with companies to understand their needs and then adapting our programmes and training accordingly is key to success,” Soulaymane Soumahoro, academic director at the Ecole de Commerce et de Gestion, told OBG.
Technical & Vocational Training
Typically, TVET is taught in two- or three-year programmes. Between the 2011/12 and 2017/18 academic years the number of TVET institutions increased significantly, from 433 to 747. However, that figure declined to 535 in the 2019/20 academic year as the introduction of more stringent regulations forced many private training facilities to close. Of the 63,291 students studying in these institutions in 2019/20, 340 students were being trained to work in primary industries such as fishing and farming; 24,007 in secondary industries such as baking, plumbing and carpentry; and 38,944 in tertiary services such as tourism, logistics and fashion.
The closure of schools and universities in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic forced the government to accelerate and expand virtual learning programmes. Through digital technology and communications channels, the government implemented a programme called Ma Classe à la Maison (My Class at Home). As part of this programme, MENA created distance learning digital platforms for the school system – covering preschool to secondary school – and another for the TVET sector. It also produced and hosted educational content that was broadcast over TV and radio. Looking ahead, MENA is developing a national ICT in education policy which will expand distance learning opportunities and standardise technology training for teachers. “The use of digital tools in education has been hampered by the low levels of digital literacy among teachers. The various national awareness campaigns on the necessity of ICT technologies and training are important to address this issue,” Aka Kouame, general director of Institut Universitaire d’Abidjan, told OBG.
MENA is also working with private companies to bring digital tools to school campuses, creating investment opportunities. According to a report by early-stage venture capital fund Seedstars, the market for ICT technologies on school campuses is upwards of $60m, while the forecast for e-learning at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels exceeds $210m.
In the medium to long term, MENA is looking to build on the areas where policy and initiatives have borne fruit as part of a number of major strategic reforms in the sector. These include expanding ICT infrastructure and e-learning opportunities, increasing enrolment in TVET institutions, developing financial literacy programmes and tackling gender disparity across different school levels. There is also recognition of the significant challenges that remain, as well as the need for detailed information about what the reforms might entail. Meanwhile, the private sector has seized the opportunity to fill gaps, a trend that appears likely to continue over the medium term. Managing the balance between the private sector fulfilling an important role in the country’s education system while also developing the state’s capacity will be key to both keeping pace with demand, and maximising outcomes.