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Equal access to quality education is crucial for addressing socioeconomic problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality (Reynolds et al., 2014; Browne & Barrett, 1991; UNESCO, 2017) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aptly captures this. SDG goal 4 proposes that by 2030, each country should “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In developing countries, the gap between the rich and the poor, rural and urban populations in terms of access to quality education are enormous due to existing gaps in infrastructure and wealth distribution between geographies and social classes (Human Rights Watch, 2017; UNESCO, 2017).
The Human Rights Watch (2017) further reports that about 49 million girls are out of primary and secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa. Equal access to education and retention in schools are key issues requiring attention in educational policies or reforms. In recognising the dividends in quality education for economic development and social transformation, including bridging the widening income inequality gap, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted pro-poor educational policies to promote universal access to education at basic and secondary levels (UNESCO, 2017; Global Education Report, 2016; Chisamya, DeJaeghere, Kendall, & Khan, 2012).
Although these reforms in Africa are not designed to purposefully discriminate against any social class of children; existing sociocultural dynamics and institutional structures have meant that children from rural communities, poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, disabled, as well as the girls, are more likely to be discriminated against (Humble & Dixon, 2017; Kamper & Mampuru, 2007; Kamper, 2008). Access to quality education and retention in schools, especially at the post-primary levels, are influenced greatly by the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of children. This affects educational outcomes and individual aspirations, personal and career development of disadvantaged children, and national development (Lewis, 2009; Humble & Dixon, 2017; Filmer & Pritchett, 1999).
This background paper explores the dynamics that affect transitions from primary to lower secondary school, with a focus on equity. It forms part of a series of papers contributing to a broader initiative of tracking the demand and supply sides factors that influence access to secondary education and prepare African youth for the future of work. Whilst case studies have been drawn from Ghana and Rwanda to assess their strengths and weaknesses to educational reforms,1 emphasis is on transitions from primary to lower secondary schools in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.