Competition between household resources for promoting education and economic activity has favored the latter in most rural areas. For these reasons, educational attainments are low in rural areas in addition to such manifestations as low enrollments levels, high incidence of school drop-outs, high illiteracy and inadequate access to new opportunities that education brings.
Currently, there is now robust evidence that human capital is a key determinant of economic growth, social development and sustainable development. The correlation of education is progressively being associated with a wide range of non-economic benefits such as better health and well-being. Education has thus moved to the centre stage of strategies to promote economic prosperity, fuller employment and social cohesion in many countries (OECD/UNESCO 2002).
So with this understanding, what is the state of rural education in the world? Has the attention to which research have advocated for manifested in improved rural education? What are the urban and rural dichotomies for education in the world especially developing countries? And what are the causes of the state of rural education?
These are the underlining issues for this review and the paper attempts to present evidences from literature to substantiate the current situation and adopt pragmatism to enhancing rural education from a world view in subsequent papers.
1.2 An Overview of World Education
One indicator for measuring education is the literacy levels of individuals and the benefit of this indicator to human development has been seen to transcend the individual abilities and capabilities for reducing poverty. The critical evidence put forward by the human capital theory stipulates that the issue of Illiteracy does not only limit the full development of individuals and their participation in society, but also has repercussions throughout life, affecting a person’s family environment, restricting access to the benefits of development, and hindering the enjoyment of other human rights.
Between 1998 and 2008, literacy level among developing countries was higher than 50 percent. Recording 47.50 percent in 1988, Africa’s adult literacy level as at 2008 increased by 16.5 percent to 64 percent, the highest increase among all the other regions. All the other regions experienced increases of less than 10 percent. Adult literacy level in Asia for instance increased by 3 percent, 2.7 percent by LAC and in all developing countries the increase was 7.4 percent between 1988 and 2008. Yet adult literacy level in Africa was lower than the average for developing countries. The deviation of the adult literacy level from that of developing countries still suggests that Africa needs increase investment and attentions not only on the enrollment of children but the promotion of quality education and ensuring that conditions available enhance higher educational attainments. While between 1988 and 2008 deviations from the average literacy level in developing countries compared to Asia and LAC were positive, Africa recorded negative deviations. Africa recorded negative deviations of 24.2 percent in 1988, 24.2 percent, 17.13 percent in 1998 and 15.1 percent in 2008 from the average of developing countries. In Asia positive deviations of 7.1 percent was recorded in 1988, 4.42 percent in 1998 and 2.7 percent in 2008 while that of LAC was 17.1 percent in 1988, 12.72 percent in 1998 and 12.4 percent in 2008. Obviously increasing focus and priority on education must be directed at Africa for her to catch-up with the other regions. In this regard, increasing international aid flows and interventions must reflect higher indices for Africa in the sector of education.
Table 1: Adult Literacy
Source: Estimates from IFAD (2011)
Gross Enrollment Rate
International figures on enrollments indicate higher proportion of children within the school going ages being in school. This manifestation is highest at the primary school levels and demonstrates international efforts over the past 11 years which have focused on increasing enrollment at the basic primary education level for children in the world particularly in for developing countries. The education for all programme influenced by the Millennium Development Goal has influenced the central focus of international and national actions on education. The Millennium Development Goal 2; ensure universal primary education for all by 2015; primarily is the influencing factor in this regard. The United Nations (2010) identifies that in 1999 the net enrollment at primary school level; based on adjusted figures and estimations of the theoretical ages for this level of education; was 82 percent in developing countries compared to that of developed countries of 97 percent and the world average of 84 percent. In 2008 the net enrollment rate for developing countries increased to 89 percent compared to the developed world of 96 percent; a decline of one percent. Overall the world average surged up dramatically between 1998 and 2008 with a recording of 94 percent in the latter year. Yet the United Nations (2010) notes that the pace of progress is insufficient to ensure that, by 2015, all girls and boys complete a full course of primary schooling.
Gross primary school enrollments are much higher than the indices presented by the United Nations. From the State of the World’s Rural Poverty Report, 2011, it was identified that gross primary enrollments per the theoretical relevant age group for primary education was over 100 percent both in 1988 and 2008 for developing countries with 147.75 percent in 1988 and 160 in 2008. The main regions of Asia and Africa experienced increases except for Latin America and the Caribbean which remained constant as indicated in Table 2.
The ratio of girls to boys in terms of enrollment at the primary education level is also improving. In 1988, the ratio of girls to boys was 0.87 in Asia, 0.79 percent in Africa, 1 percent in LAC and overall 1.33 percent in developing countries. Currents statistics indicates that female enrollments are gradually improving as presented in Table 2. This is no surprising as the international consensus on achieving the MDG 2 goal has a gender dimension to it. The target identified is to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. As a result increased emphasis on international aid interventions have given impetus to girl child education. With these increasing investments and attention, the consequences have been the growing enrollment ratios of girls to boys. In 2008, estimates from IFAD (2011) indicates that in Asia girl to boy primary school enrollment ratios was 0.93 percent, 0.91 percent in Africa and 1.40 for all developing countries. Despite these improvements, it is difficult to tell whether it is the increasing of girls’ enrollment or declining boys’ enrollment that are presenting these ratios. Nonetheless, challenges of education at the primary school level exist and needs mitigation. Issues of funding challenges, long distances to schools, poor accessibility and the overt and covert educational cost are preventing children from accessing adequate education. The critical factor has been poverty at the local level and inadequate funding at the national level. Additionally, the implications of demographic trends and ambitious international pressure to attain enrollment goals, increasing government expenditure and the economic crisis as well as erratic nature of international aid, reveals that countries are trading and/or may trade off quantity of enrollment rates for quality education at the primary school level.
Compared to primary school enrollment, the gross secondary school enrollment is lagging and this demonstrates how international aid and world attentions on development paradigms determine the development processes of developing countries. With less focus on secondary school education and much focus on primary enrollment levels, quality of primary education is not only affected but also the enrollments at other levels of education are affected. The rate of investments at the primary level does not correspond to the rates of investments at higher levels of education thus more children are not being enrolled into high educational institutions after the basic school education.
Table 2: Gross Enrollment Levels for Primary and Secondary School in Developing Countries
Source: Estimates from IFAD (2011)
From Table 2 above, it is obvious that the increases in enrollment levels for primary and secondary school education are far more favourable for the former in developing countries. Average gross enrollment in 1988 for primary school was 147.75 percent whiles that of secondary education was 57.15 percent. In 2008, estimates indicated that gross enrollment levels for primary education were 160 percent as against 71.50 percent of gross secondary school enrollment in developing countries. Despite these positive trends the data set suggests that secondary school education in the past has received less attention as the present situation. The situation is worse in Asian and African countries where gross enrollment levels are far lower than the average for developing countries. The ratio of girls to boys has increased appreciably on all the continents. In Asia the ratio increased from 0.68 to 0.84 percent, 0.72 to 0.76 percent in Africa, 1.05 to 1.07 percent in LAC and 1.22 to 1.34 for all developing countries between 1988 and 2008. Whiles Africa continue to experience marginal gains in gross enrollment indicators, LAC is experiencing average high indices for these same indicators.
With the low level of attention on secondary school, it implies that more primary school children graduating may not achieve higher education and this would affect the quality of the human resource for national development. Every country demands skilled labour and these are influenced by higher educational attainment. Scholars in developed countries accuses developing countries of low productivity yet systems put in place by their development understanding and propagation are not enhancing the aim for enhanced skilled labour through higher educational attainment. In many developing countries, majority of those employed are in the informal sector. Hussmanns and Mehran (1998) assert that the informal sector represents an important aspect of the national economy of many developing countries contributing to employment, production, income generation thus national economic growth. Nonetheless, research by Liimatainen (2002) and Haan (2006) all show that in developing countries, especially Africa, half of informal sector workers have attained only primary education, if any. The consequence is low productivity leading to low production and the consequential negative implication on poverty reduction in developing countries.
An alternative to secondary school education is vocational and technical training which offers practical and employable skills to young children to be able to engage in economic activities and/or entrepreneurship without the option of tertiary education. Yet emphasis and investment in this area is far lower than that of secondary school education with efforts manifesting only in political assertions without political will and policy direction. Parents alike have attached to this type of education – vocational and technical training – a negative stigma and are of the erroneous perception that this type of education is for non-performers. Even though between 1988 and 2008 gross enrollment in vocational training more than doubled (Figure 1) in developing countries the index is less than 25 percent of the relevant age group who are supposed to be enrolled. All the regions experienced more than 100 percent increases in gross enrollments in 2008 from 1988; however this is less than 50 percent of the target population. Generally, the ratio of girls in vocational training is encouraging. LAC experienced the highest ratio while Asia experienced the least ratio and the average for all developing countries was over 50 percent as indicated in Figure 2.
Figure 1: Gross Educational Enrollment in Vocational Training
Source: Estimates from IFAD (2011)
Figure 2: Ratio of Girls in Vocational Training
Source: Estimates from IFAD (2011)
1.3 The State of Rural Education
It has been argued that human development needs its own specific goals like literacy or basic education for all. And it needs to be an overall goal—the main focus of development (UNDP 1991). Yet as much as this statement is true the precursor to the attainment of this goal is marked by the promotion of education for everyone especially those in rural areas. This is especially critical for future development actions as essential aspects of human development, such as education, are sometimes treated merely as instrumental, as capital for producing future flows of utility (UNDP 2010).
In analyzing the state of education in rural areas, it has become obvious from literature that there is inadequate disaggregated data on the indicators discussed above for rural and urban dichotomies. Even the UNESCO data system could not yield to a query on continental disaggregated data for urban and rural education issues. It is only the UN MDG Report that provides to some extent disaggregated data on rural and urban enrollments for primary education because of it focuses on ensuring universal primary education by 2015 as part of its broad development framework. This notwithstanding, individual research and country cases captured in other researches in education have identified that rural areas have been and are increasing being deprived of adequate education.
According to the UNDP (2010), while gender gaps are small on average for young children in developing countries, they remain pronounced for older children in rural areas. In addition, the agency identifies that 35 percent of rural girls and 71 percent of urban boys are enrolled in schools in Bolivia and the rates are 37 percent and 84 percent in Guinea accordingly. In Nepal large disparities in school attendance and the quality of education persist, particularly between urban and rural areas and across ethnic groups (Oman Ministry of National Economy 2003). In terms of physical access, evidence from Pakistan, the village of Akhoon Bandi reveals that the community has two primary schools, one for girls and one for boys. The need to travel to Haripur for secondary schooling has restricted educational opportunities, especially for girls (IFAD 2011). Again, just under half of poor rural females aged 17 to 22 in Egypt have fewer than four years of education and in Morocco the rate is 88 percent (UNESCO 2010).
From the perspective of child dropout situation in rural areas, it is also observed that the incidence is higher in rural areas than urban areas and the disparity between boys and girls in urban areas is wider especially in developing countries. According to Bruneforth (2009), “living in a rural area often puts children at greater risk of being out of school and in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Malawi, the Niger, Senegal and Zambia, household survey data suggest that rural children are more than twice as likely not to be in school”. As at 2008, about 31 percent of girls in rural areas were out of school compared to 15 percent of boys as indicated in Figure 3 below. In effect, “rural children are twice as likely to be out of school as children living in urban areas” (United Nations 2010). Similarly, lower income situations affect the situation of out-of-school children with the highest incidence manifesting in the poorest 20 percent compared to the lowest incidence which is associated with richest 20 percent. This however compounds the situation for rural areas are they are characterized by low income levels.
Conclusively, the UNDP Human Development Report in 2010 is warranted to espouse that “rural households and households with low education consistently have a lower Human Development Index (HDI) than their urban and higher educated counterparts do. The differences are not due simply to education being part of the HDI: the life expectancy and income indices also show a bias against households with no education”. In effect the observations consolidate the earlier assertion that rural areas lag in terms of adequate education. Poverty or low income level is the main cause associated with the poor state of education in rural areas such as high incidence of out-of-school amongst children, illiteracy and low educational attainment in rural areas. Shocks also contribute greatly to impoverishment for poor rural people making them have less resilience to the negative factors hindering development. As a result, poor rural people may have to resort to coping strategies that involve foregoing on education opportunities for children and youth– all of which leave them that much more vulnerable to future shocks (IFAD 2011).
Figure 3: Out-of-school Children by Wealth Quintile and Area of Residence, Girls and Boys, 42 Countries, 2000/2008 (Percentage)
Source: United Nations, 2010
In the area of vocational and technical training, UNESCO (2010) reveals that in sub-Saharan Africa, vocational education largely bypasses the informal sector (where most marginalized young people work), and is shunned by parents and pupils. For instance, vocational programmes in India reach only about 3 percent of rural youth and there is little evidence that they enhance employment prospects. Unfortunately, the low attention is not only induced by the low focus at the national and policy level but also the perception of parents’ and guardian’s image of technical and vocational provision as a form of second-class education that provides limited benefits for employment remains largely intact (UNESCO 2010).
In general, there is consensus on the understanding that rural areas often lag far behind urban areas (Kinsella and He, 2009). This is can be related to the issue that in many countries, rural households in general and poor rural households in particular lag far behind their urban counterparts. Rural poverty results from lack of assets, limited economic opportunities and poor education and capabilities, as well as disadvantages rooted in social and political inequalities (IFAD 2011).
The issues of poverty, physical accessibility, low attention to higher educational attainment and vocational and technical training are seen as some of the critical issues constraining rural education development. Similarly, international trends especially on focus of educational funding and the international consensus on promoting education are all impediments to improving rural education despite the emerging benefits of these international responses. Promoting comprehensive and complementing strategies that ensure continuity in rural education are critical for poverty reduction and rural development.
Recognizing that is a multi-dimensional concept requiring multi-dimensional approach is critical. However, as much as these dimensions are relevant education pervades the alternatives to amelioration as it enhances the capacity of rural dwellers to manage and own assets as well as harness economic opportunities, develops social capital and participates in political decisions. With rural areas experiencing slow pace of education development, it is anticipated that the consequences would be dire especially if current trends perpetuates.
Bruneforth, M. (2009). Social background and a typology of out-of-school children in 27 countries. Background paper for EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010.
Haan, Hans Christiaan (2006). Training for Work in the Informal Micro‐Enterprise Sector: Fresh Evidence from Sub‐Sahara Africa. Unesco‐Unevoc, Springer, The Netherlands
Hussmanns, R. and Mehran, F., (1998). Statistical definition of the informal sector: International standards and national practices. International Labour Office, Bureau of Statistics, Geneva
IFAD (2011). Rural Poverty Report. New realities, new challenges: New opportunities for tomorrow’s generation. The International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome. http:// www.ifad.org/rpr2011.
Kinsella, K. and He, W. (2009). An Ageing World: 2008. Washington, DC, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging/US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau. (International Population Reports, P95/09-1)
Liimatainen, Marjo‐Riita (2002). Training and Skills Acquisition in the Informal Sector: A Literature Review. ILO in Focus Programme on Skills, Knowledge and Employability, Informal
Economy Series, Geneva.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme 1991). Human Development Report Office. 1991. Human Development Reports. New York: Oxford University Press.
UNESCO (2010): 2010 World Education Report. UNESCO Publishing, Paris.