Since 1990 most countries in Sub Saharan Africa have focused on universalising access to primary education. An increasing number are also now aiming to improve basic education up to Grade 9 or more. However, growth has been uneven, gains have not always been sustained, very rapid expansion has stressed infrastructure and teacher supply, and there are concerns that the number of over age children may have increased and quality may have deteriorated.
This paper explores patterns of growth in participation in six Anglophone (Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) and seven Francophone (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Senegal) countries in SSA. These countries have all had large scale Universal Primary Education programmes supported with external finance, and all have demographic and health survey (DHS) data sets collected at least ten years apart, first in the 1990s and subsequently after 2000. The results show that progress towards universal access to education has been patchy and sometimes disappointing. Though there has been some progress, it falls far short of the gains that were anticipated. In a small but worrying number of cases the gains have been small or negative. In others much more progress is needed to achieve universal access with equity and to close the gap between the poorest and other households.