MALABO, Equatorial Guinea — Equatorial Guinea, the small Central African country with an astounding per capita GNI of $23,240 per year, is one of Africa’s richest countries; yet, much of the country’s wealth is not being reinvested in the country’s educational sector, a sure sign that the country’s economic future will be precarious at best.
Currently, the quality of education in Equatorial Guinea—and expenditures therein—is extremely low. In 2009, the country spent only 1.97 percent of its national budget on education. Consequently, the country’s schools are overpopulated with children, understaffed and lack quality teachers. As a result, while literacy rates for those between the ages of 15 and 24 is high (97.7 percent for males and 98.4 percent for females), almost a quarter of primary students repeat a grade, and primary and secondary school participation is remarkably low, according to UNESCO and UNICEF figures.
Due to a lack of investment in education, teachers are often not paid, and educational materials are in short supply. Even though free education is a guarantee in the country’s constitution, school fees are issued in practice because of insufficient government funds. Public financing is so bad that by some estimates, Equatorial Guinea spends less than a fourth of what other African governments spend on public education, and the results certainly show.
As one 2009 Center for Economic and Social Rights report delicately put it, the lack of public spending in education “suggests a failure to invest the ‘maximum of available resources’ in the realization of the rights” to “education.”
Unfortunately, as the same report goes on to note, there is also a significant gender disparity in access to education. “For every 100 boys (that enroll in secondary school),” the report continues, “there are just 57 girls.” Equatorial Guinea’s government “acknowledged” the shortcomings in its education system in October 2012 when a workshop on girls’ education identified barriers to learning, especially for female students.
For a country with incredible wealth accumulated from its oil reserves, Equatorial Guinea is not sufficiently investing in its strongest asset for the future: its educational system. While all of its educational problems cannot simply be fixed with more money, building more schools, hiring additional teachers and increasing the share of its budget on education would dramatically improve the quality of education in the country.
A better educational system would also mean a future population better equipped to operate in the global economy. Adding value to economic exports requires an educated workforce, as does diversifying exports and agricultural output. Although Equatorial Guinea has impressive economic indicators, growth and opportunity from petroleum production is shrinking. Investments in education should be the first step in preparing the next generation for the economic and social problems that will inevitably arise with a more globalized economy.
– Joseph McAdams