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Experts, Officials Call for Free Secondary Education in Africa


Experts and education officials attending a United Nations conference in Ethiopia Tuesday called on governments and development agencies to do something about the many children in Africa who fail to attend secondary school or other post-primary training. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Less than 35 percent of children who finish primary school in Burundi, Mozambique, and Tanzania make it to secondary school.

Many of these children end up unemployed, underemployed, or on the streets.

Some countries, such as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, fare somewhat better, with more than 80 percent of primary school graduates moving on to secondary school.

A spokesman for the United Nations children's agency, Victor Chinyama, tells VOA that those attending this week's education conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have a lot to grapple with.

"It's a major concern, given the fact that so many children are excelling, doing well in their primary school leaving exams, being selected to secondary school, but then are unable to proceed on to secondary school because they simply don't have the fees," Chinyama says.

Chinyama says the experts are calling on governments to offer free secondary school education, as a primary school education is not enough.

"They are not really there. They don't have the wherewithal, the necessary aptitude, and skills, and life skills for them to be able to confront life after primary school," Chinyama says. "They do need to be able to go on to secondary school. They might finish lower secondary school, they might even finish upper secondary school, but they are so much better off than if they just did primary school."

Chinyama says other types of post-primary education, such as vocational training, should also be made available for children who are unable to pass their final primary school exams.

According to UNICEF official Aster Haregot, girls who finish secondary school tend to have fewer and healthier children.

Researchers found that girls who received secondary school education in Uganda and Zimbabwe had lower HIV infection rates than those who did not attend secondary school.

African governments are starting to move on the issue. Uganda last week became the first country on the continent to offer free secondary school education to a target group of 250,000 students.

Countries said to be seriously pushing for free secondary education include Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana.