‘Substantial gaps’ in African education research

Inadequate funding and lack of interregional collaboration hindering much-needed scholarship, report says

August 9, 2019
Hiker observes view from gap in rocks
Source: Alamy

An absence of proper funding and capacity has led to substantial gaps in educational research in many sub-Saharan countries, according to a report.

A study of the African Educational Research database, which collates educational research papers by sub-Saharan authors, highlighted that there was a lack of research on early childhood education, for example, despite its significance to national, regional and global policy priorities.

The study analysed 1,650 English-language articles published in internationally recognised, peer-reviewed journals between 2010 and 2018. It found that early childhood education represented just 4 per cent of the studies, despite its importance for school readiness and future life opportunities.

The study also found that most of the research in the database was being done in a select few countries, with a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa publishing no educational research at all.

Education has become a huge priority for sub-Saharan Africa: it has the youngest population in the world but the highest rates of education exclusion, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

“Educational research has the potential to have a direct effect on policy and practice, and researchers from the region are far better placed to understand the priorities and have influence on policymakers,” said Pauline Rose, director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning centre at the University of Cambridge, that created the database.

Professor Rose said the findings were “quite striking” and showed the need for further investment and network building in the region.

Research done by academics in sub-Saharan Africa is often overlooked and it is hoped that the database will provide a way for the world to connect with the work being done in the region, Professor Rose said.

This analysis did reveal research strengths, including on language and curricula and equitable and inclusive education.

The report found that Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya collectively accounted for just over 40 per cent of the overall research output on education, while 26 countries published fewer than 10 studies included in the database – such as Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Madagascar, and Gambia.

Professor Rose said that those countries with little or no educational research often had less developed education systems, although some were in conflict-affected areas.

The report also showed how little collaboration was happening within the region. Two-thirds of the publications had no collaboration outside the author’s institution, while one-quarter involved collaboration with more developed countries outside the region.

Only 5 per cent involved collaborations between researchers in different sub-Saharan African countries, and only 5 per cent were produced through a collaboration within a country.

“The reason behind this is funding: northern institutions are more likely to have access to funding opportunities, and when researchers don’t have any funding they work in their own institution,” Professor Rose said.

There needs to be more collaboration within the region because it helps drive an African research agenda, the report said.  

“As researchers in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have the opportunity to work across different African contexts, they are missing out on that particular type of learning that can be so helpful for policy and practice,” Professor Rose said.


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