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In Africa, Parents Key to Education

In Africa, Parents Key to Education

by Magali Rheault

This article is part of a weeklong series analyzing how education leaders, students, and teachers evaluate education in the U.S. and worldwide.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Investments in education can pay off for generations in Africa, where parents' educations largely determine the level of schooling their children get. Africans surveyed in 2013 are far more likely to have attended, if not graduated from, secondary school if both parents have completed primary education.

parents' schooling is critical to Africans' own educational achievement

Africans with two parents who did not complete at least primary education are the worst off in terms of their own academic achievement. However, if even one parent has a primary education, the likelihood of his or her child completing secondary education more than doubles. Whether this parent is the mother or father tends to influence their children's outcomes differently. Africans are more likely to have some secondary-level schooling if the mother is the educated parent (56%) rather than the father (47%). But the magnitude of this gender difference varies according to whether the child is a man or a woman. African men whose mother is the only parent with a primary education are slightly more likely to have some secondary schooling than if the father is the only educated parent, 59% vs. 53%, respectively. Among African women, however, this difference is greater, 52% vs. 41%, respectively.

respondents' education outcome is higher when their mother is the only educated parent

As a result, a "mother effect" appears to benefit boys and girls similarly, while a "father effect," albeit still positive for both genders, results in a greater likelihood that sons will achieve secondary education than daughters, when only one parent completed at least primary school. Such results underscore the importance of strengthening girls' education in Africa, considering the powerful effect that future mothers can have on their children's academic achievement.

Educational Attainment Still Low

Despite many local and national initiatives, educational attainment in most African countries is still relatively low. At a more basic level, literacy rates for those aged 15 and older average 59% in sub-Saharan Africa, the lowest of any region in the world, according to UNESCO. The Gallup findings also show that almost half of Africans surveyed say neither parent completed at least primary school, while about one-third say both parents did. Further, the difference between mother-only and father-only primary-school levels highlights the persistent gender gap in education, 4% vs. 12%.

for most africans, neither parent has a minimum level of formal education

Many Africans See Education as Vital to Success

More than four in 10 Africans Gallup surveyed choose education when asked what is most valuable for someone in their country to succeed in life. Although many believe family and social connections (30%), intelligence (17%), and a strong work ethic (12%) are also valuable, Africans clearly view education as the most important ingredient for success.

perceived ingredients for success in Africa

Remarkably, there are few differences in how Africans answer this question by gender, age, and urbanization level. However, having completed a higher level of schooling positively influences the value Africans put on education, perhaps because they themselves are experiencing the benefits of staying in school longer. Along these lines, parents' own schooling is related to Africans' attitudes toward the value of an education. In addition, those who report living comfortably on their present household income are more likely than individuals with a lower standard of living to say education is most valuable.

Bottom Line

As multilateral stakeholders and members of civil society articulate the next vision for sustainable development in Africa, measurable and concrete goals focused on gender equality and education must be paramount. The Gallup findings reveal that opportunities for women to achieve a formal education have significant "legacy effects" regarding their children's likelihood to reach higher levels of education, if the mother is the only parent who completed at least primary school. As a result, initiatives focusing on girls' education will continue to be crucial. At the same time, the overwhelmingly positive outcome of having both parents with at least a primary-level education strongly suggests that greater investments in universal education in Africa will likely pay dividends for generations to come.

More quantifiable research is needed regarding the quality of education, language of teaching, and economic outcomes. But the "parent effect," combined with a true understanding of the value of education, creates an environment where children are more likely to learn and achieve higher goals.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2013 in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Kinshasa, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error ranged from ±3.8 percentage points to ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

"Primary" education refers to respondents who have fewer than nine years of formal education. "Secondary" education refers to respondents who have nine to 15 years of formal education.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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