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Increasing the number of female primary school teachers in African countries: Effects, barriers and policies


Girls’ education has been a high development priority for decades. While some progress has been made, girls are often still at a great disadvantage, especially in developing countries, and most especially in African countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of primary school teachers and only a quarter of secondary school teachers are women, and enrolment figures for girls are low. One common policy prescription is to increase the number of women teachers, especially in the many countries where teaching remains a predominantly male profession. This policy prescription needs to be backed by more evidence in order to significantly increase and improve its effective implementation. The available research seems to suggest that girls are more likely to enrol in schools where there are female teachers. Moreover, increasing the number of trained teachers in sub-Saharan Africa depends on more girls completing their school education. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive literature review analysing the effects of being taught by women teachers on girls’ educational experience. This paper aims to make a start on filling this gap by examining the evidence on the effects in primary schools, especially in African countries. It also identifies and examines the barriers women face in becoming and staying teachers, and considers policies to remedy their situation.


Augmenter le nombre des enseignantes primaires dans les pays africains : conséquences, obstacles et politiques – L’éducation des filles constitue une priorité absolue de développement depuis plusieurs décennies. Même si certains progrès ont été réalisés, les filles sont encore souvent très défavorisées, surtout dans les pays en développement et en particulier africains. En Afrique subsaharienne, les femmes représentent moins de la moitié du corps enseignant primaire et seul un quart des enseignants secondaires, et les taux de scolarisation des filles sont particulièrement bas. Une prescription stratégique commune consiste à accroître le nombre des femmes enseignantes, notamment dans les nombreux pays où l’enseignement demeure un métier typiquement masculin. Mais cette prescription doit être étayée par un corpus plus consistant de données pour en étendre et améliorer sensiblement l’application. Les études existantes semblent constater que les filles sont plus susceptibles d’être inscrites dans les écoles dotées de femmes enseignantes. Par ailleurs, la multiplication d’enseignants qualifiés en Afrique subsaharienne dépend du nombre de filles qui achèvent leur scolarité. Mais il n’existe à ce jour aucune étude exhaustive qui analyse les conséquences sur l’expérience éducative des filles de l’enseignement dispensé par des femmes. Les auteurs de cet article font un premier pas pour combler cette lacune, en explorant les données sur ces conséquences dans les écoles primaires, notamment des pays africains. Ils identifient et examinent en outre les obstacles que rencontrent les femmes pour embrasser et continuer à exercer la profession, et envisagent les politiques qui pourraient remédier à leur situation.

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  1. Education for All (EFA), coordinated by UNESCO, is a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults with six goals to be met by 2015. For more information see

  2. The labels “developing” and “developed” are problematic. They imply a false dichotomy and/or linear progression. However, we use these labels here since other labels are equally problematic (Sachs 2010).

  3. ERIC (the acronym stands for Educational Resources Information Center) is an online library of education research and information, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. For more information, see

  4. The term “grey literature” refers to publications not produced and distributed by commercial publishers. They include books, brochures and leaflets, reports, for example, which have been prepared and published by institutions, organisations, governments etc. and are more easily traceable and accessible to researchers in the age of the Internet than they used to be.

  5. For findings from literature on same-sex schools in developing countries, see Lloyd et al. 2007; Murphy and Carr 2007; Lewis and Lockheed 2006; Kim et al. 1996; Lee and Lockheed 1990; and Jimenez and Lockheed 1989.

  6. The region of sub-Saharan Africa reports the highest student–teacher ratio in the world, followed by South and West Asia (39 to 1), Latin America and the Caribbean (23 to 1), the Arab States (22 to 1), East Asia and the Pacific (19 to 1), Central and Eastern Europe (18 to 1), Central Asia (17 to 1), and North America and Western Europe (14 to 1). Worldwide, the average student–teacher ratio is 25 to 1 – nearly half the number of students reported in classrooms in sub-Saharan Africa (UIS 2010).

  7. “The term ‘para teachers’ is a generic term applied to characterize all teachers appointed on contract basis often under varying service conditions in terms of emoluments and qualification requirements” (Govinda and Josephine 2004, p. 8).

  8. “A Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) […] sets out a framework for domestic policies and programmes to reduce poverty in low-income countries. Since 1999, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have required governments to produce a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) as a condition for debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. PRSPs are also required for concessional loans (at low or zero interest) through the Banks International Development Association and the IMFs Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (UNFPA n.d.).

  9. The Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI), renamed Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2011, is an international global partnership between donor and low-income partner countries. It was launched in 2002 for the purpose of enrolling more children in school for a better education. For more information see

  10. This happens either because administrators assume that women are more nurturing and better suited to the work (Shriberg 2007) or because social perceptions accord teaching early primary grades lower status and therefore assign women to those roles (Bennell 2004) – both sexist assumptions. In some countries, secondary school teachers are paid more, attracting more men to the upper grades and pushing women out (Shriberg 2008).

  11. World Bank policy has not been friendly to teachers generally. It has argued for reducing teacher salaries, has been very critical of teachers’ unions and oriented toward surveillance and control of teachers (Klees et al. 2012).

  12. For further discussion of these policy recommendations, see Stromquist et al. 2013).

  13. The Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) is a pan-African Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working in 33 African countries. Its aim is to empower girls and women through gender-responsive education. For more information see


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This paper was produced through a Grant from the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) to the University of Maryland. All opinions expressed are those of the authors alone.

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Correspondence to Steven J. Klees.

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Haugen, C.S., Klees, S.J., Stromquist, N.P. et al. Increasing the number of female primary school teachers in African countries: Effects, barriers and policies. Int Rev Educ 60, 753–776 (2014).

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  • Girls’ education
  • Women teachers
  • Gender issues
  • Africa