Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



This working paper explores inequalities in education across sub-Saharan Africa, focusing mostly on primary school completion rates, with attention also given to literacy as a more proximate indicator of human capital acquisition. Using data from the Demographic and Health Surveys and UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, we explore cross-country variations in primary school completion rates, gender and wealth gaps in education, and literacy rates in relation to one another and in relation to cross-country variations in national income per capita. While these data paint a picture of overall educational progress, particularly for girls, this general picture is juxtaposed against an extremely diverse landscape across Africa with respect to primary school completion rates and retained literacy. Although even the poorest countries have significant variation in achieved literacy, suggesting that learning can occur even in resource-poor environments, at the same time, our findings are sobering: in many countries, international educational goals are unlikely to be reached by 2015, and poor learning outcomes are frequently widespread.