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Value Africans Place on Education Varies Widely by Country

Value Africans Place on Education Varies Widely by Country

by Steve Crabtree

This article is the fourth in a series that highlights key issues in Africa in relation to the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 4-6.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The quality and accessibility of education across Africa is central to the discussions about Africa's next generations taking place at this week's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The perceived value that Africans themselves place on education varies across the 31 countries Gallup surveyed in 2013, with the percentage choosing education as the most important factor for a successful life ranging from 73% in Botswana to 13% in Ivory Coast.

In your opinion, which of the following is MOST valuable for someone in [this country] to have in order to succeed in life?

Overall, there are few differences in Africans' priorities by demographic categories such as gender and age. But it is possible to identify factors that may influence the differences between countries. Most notably, in countries that are politically stable and have well-functioning democratic systems -- such as Botswana and Ghana -- residents tend to be more likely to say education is most important to success. On the other hand, in countries that suffer from the disruptive effects of chronic conflict -- such as Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- residents tend to be more likely to cite personal connections than education as the most important factor for a successful life.

Language May Be a Factor

Language may also play a role in Africans' opinions on what is most valuable to a successful life. All nine countries where a majority of residents say education is most important are predominantly English-speaking places, and most are former British colonies. Conversely, all seven countries in which a majority of residents say personal connections are most important are predominantly French-speaking places or former French or Belgian colonies. Overall, across English-speaking countries in Africa, 51% of residents say education is most important to success; among residents in French-speaking countries, the figure drops to 28%.


Analysts have noted that English-speaking African countries have developed more quickly and more successfully attracted foreign direct investment than their French-speaking counterparts. In some cases, the result has been a virtuous cycle: Rising interest from foreign firms creates a strong economic incentive to establish a stable business environment. That motivation in turn helps bolster the rule of law and reduces the need for personal connections to gain access to opportunities in English-speaking countries.

Cultural influence may also play a role in the differences. For example, several French-speaking African countries -- including Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, and Tunisia -- have large Muslim populations and historical ties to the Middle East region. The reliance on connections to influential family members or friends to facilitate transactions -- referred to as "wasta" in Arabic -- is endemic to many Middle Eastern societies.

Bottom Line

Education's perceived importance is one of many factors influencing schools' potential to raise the level of human capital and support economic growth in a country. The quality and accessibility of education -- and particularly its capacity to help students meet the country's labor market needs -- are fundamental concerns throughout Africa.

Nevertheless, differences in the way Africans think about what it takes to succeed in life have powerful implications for development. Those who do not view education as the key to unlocking economic opportunities may be less motivated to ensure that their children stay in school and attend every day. In many cases, obtaining even a basic education can mean making sacrifices because children would otherwise be available to help with farm work or other means of supporting the family.

In countries where success is seen as a function of personal relationships -- that is, who you know rather than what you know -- residents may be more likely to view education as not just a costly endeavor, but also a pointless one. Often, the result is that children fail to develop the skills they need to envision and work toward a brighter future for their families and their communities.

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 approximately 1,000 face-to-face interviews with adults, aged 15 and older, in each country during 2013. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.9 percentage points. 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.

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

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