10 Worst National Education Systems

The United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Educational Development Index (EDI) tends to attract most attention for the countries that perform at the very top. First-world and OECD countries are lauded for the strength of their education systems, the level at which their populations are developing, and much is made of who may have moved up or down within the top 10. Unsurprisingly, these top countries consist mostly of Scandinavian and Nordic countries – Norway is currently ranked number 1 under the Human Development Index (HDI) while the bottom half of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) report is heavily populated by countries from the developing world.

One factor studied in the HDI is the Education Index. The UNDP ranks countries through a series of parameters that lets us know just how good - or bad - a country's education system really is. All the way at the very bottom you'll find that the entries are almost invariably African; a stark reminder, if any were needed, of the abysmal social conditions and living standards within the continent.

Rentier states are countries wherein the government’s lucrative sales of national resources mean they forego tax revenue - revenue that would normally fund national social programs and policies. Many familiar with this phenomenon know it as the ‘Resource Curse,’ and are aware that it’s a problem that tends to afflict – but is not limited to – former-colonial, developing countries. These resources can be anything from coffee, minerals, and crops, to diamonds, gold, or the big resource on campus – oil. This type of state rentierism is a hallmark of governments in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, that tend to be up to their ears in natural resources with very little regulation.

African states have suffered from this problem, with natural resources fueling or even sparking civil and interstate wars. The blood diamonds funding the rebels in Sierra Leone is just one stark example. In states riddled with much larger problems, such as child soldiers, civil wars, genocide, corruption, and widespread tribal conflict, it might seem understandable that education falls by the wayside. But many people on the world stage believe that education is the ‘key’ to the growth of the developing world and that it is an indispensible resource that cannot be ignored. Below is a list of ten countries with the worst education levels in the world. Let’s hope that sometime in the future, things start looking up for countries like…

10 Angola (0.685 EDI)

Tenth on the list with an Education Development Index of 0.685 is Angola. With the highest Adult Literacy Rate (ALR) on this list of 70.1%, Angola still clearly stands head and shoulders above its continental compatriots on this list. In fact, Angola has increased efforts to improve the national education system in accordance with UNESCO’s 'Education for All' program, and hopes to achieve its goals by 2015. Currently the United Kingdom’s Chatham House has proposed joint efforts to help the coastal African nation achieve and surpass the initiative's proposed target of a 2015 completion date.

Unfortunately, ranking 111th in the UNESCO EDI still means that the education system in Angola is in dire straits.

9 Gambia (0.677 EDI)

Next up there's Gambia with an EDI score of 0.677, and Adult Literacy Rate of 50 % (the eleventh lowest in the world). In Gambia, there is only a 4.1% Tertiary Enrollment Ratio for the national education system which consists of a whopping 574 schools. The Gambian president Yahya Jammeh was recently quoted as stating that ‘Gays are vermin’ while at a recent UN address, a comment which might serve to illuminate the current state of the country's development. According to President Jammeh, Gambia is fighting gays “the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes” and LGBT could only stand for “Leprosy, Gonorrhea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis”. Perhaps once national education is given a higher priority on the national agenda, the country’s leaders could find themselves more enlightened to the blight of oppressed groups in their country.

8 Pakistan (0.656 EDI)

Pakistan stands alone as the only entry on this list that is not an African country. Ranked 113th, Pakistan has an EDI of 0.656 and an ALR of 54.9%. Pakistan’s education troubles are deeply affected by the country’s strong religious background and the influence that the militant Taliban have in much of Pakistan.

Malala Yousafzai is now a world famous young Pakistani teenager who opposed a Taliban edict that banned girls from attending school. Malala continued to attend school despite Taliban threats and was shot in the head by Taliban militia for her troubles. Luckily, Malala survived the attack, has been given a book deal to recount her story, and has even been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Malala’s actions have begun to reverberate through the country’s educational system as Pakistani girls are receiving ‘ground-breaking’ sexual education classes. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Aitazaz Hassan Bangash, a 14-year-old Pakistani boy who was killed while stopping a terrorist bomber from entering his school. A recent court bombing in Islamabad that killed at least 11 people finishes painting the grisly picture that is modern-day Pakistan. Hopefully, the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s young students will help bring about major changes to their education system.

7 Guinea (0.634 EDI)

Guinea’s 114 ranking in UNESCO’s Education analysis gives a pretty clear picture of education in the West African country. It’s Adult Literacy Rate of 41% is the tenth lowest in the world, and there is an abysmally low ‘Satisfaction with Education Quality’ ranking of 3 in their HDI ranking. Currently, the country is witnessing protests throughout the capital city of Conakry following a series of power cuts that affected the poorest sections of the population. Guinean citizens have begun protesting through the streets and have even ransacked government buildings in the ensuing riots. Ongoing social unrest like this means the government's - and students' focus - is far from educational improvement.

6 Eritrea (0.623 EDI)

Coming in 6th is Eritrea – ranked 115st in the world – boasting one of the highest adult literacy rates on this list with a 67.8% ALR. Things can’t be so bad, right? Think again. The country’s Tertiary Enrollment ratio was a dismal 2% and the country has a Gross Primary Enrollment ratio of 45% - the lowest on this list. The former Ethiopian province is currently going through a bit of a scandal as the government has been forcing Eritrean expatriates living in Britain to pay a 2% “Diaspora tax”. The dictatorship in Eritrea has caused a massive diaspora to flee the country, and it was recently reported that many Eritrean refugees have been found in slave and torture camps while in Egypt and Sudan. 

5 Ethiopia (0.622 EDI)

Ethiopia brings us to number 5 with a 0.622 EDI – barely nudging out Eritrea by 0.001 – and an ALR of 39%; the 5th lowest in the world. With some of the lowest educational statistics in the world, the system in Ethiopia looks bleak for the country’s schoolchildren.

With a Gross Enrollment Ratio of 5.5%, the situation would seem almost hopeless but a recent World Bank publication states that the WB’s Board of Executive Directors has “approved major financing for Ethiopia to transform the quality of its teaching and learning for more than 21 million children in primary and secondary schools”. The project will receive US $550 million of investment towards their goal of increasing educational quality in the country. Hopefully the project is successful and Ethiopia can find its way out of the bottom rungs of international education rankings.

4 Central African Republic (0.617 EDI)

4th last in UNESCO’s Education ranking is the Central African Republic. Their 56.6% adult literacy rate only makes them 19th last in the world, but their education levels may be taking a back seat to the mass exodus taking place within the country that some are calling an “ethnic cleansing”. The country is currently engulfed in internal violence with “people killed by machetes, torture, lynchings, shootings, explosion and burning”. The religious clash has killed thousands and displaced millions since the beginning of the violence in 2012. Despite the violence, UN officials are still pushing for increased education efforts in the country and are aiming to improve education levels amongst refugees.

3 Mali (0.612 EDI)

Mali comes in at number 3 with a 31.1% adult literacy rate making it the second lowest on this list. 2012 saw massive amounts of internal violence within the country when the nomadic Tuareg tribe took control in the northern part of the country while making a push for independence from the central Malian state. The violence has since slowed but is far from ending anytime soon. Recently, incidents in the country have included a mine being overrun by gunmen, landmine victims, and the members of the Malian military being found in shallow graves outside the capital.

2 Burkina Faso (0.594 EDI)

Tied for the lowest adult literacy rate on this list is Burkina Faso with an ALR of 27.7%. The poor education levels don’t stop there for Burkina Faso with only 2% of the Adult Population having a secondary education. It gets even worse when their stats are scrutinized a little further – their gross enrollment ratio is a concerning 3.3%. Citizens of Burkina Faso began rallying as early as January of this year in protest of the autocratic regime currently in place. Protestors are looking to achieve a full democracy by ousting their current leader Zephirin Diabre. If this sounds a little unfamiliar to you, you're not alone – most Western media outlets have paid the protests next to no attention throughout the crisis. Diabre is accused of large-scale embezzlement and stealing funds from the public for his own personal accounts.

1 Niger (0.528 EDI)

Oil-rich and regionally powerful Niger tops has the lowest education level in the world today. Tied for the lowest adult literacy rate on this list at 28.7%, the educational situation in Niger is bleak. The population in the country with a secondary education? 5.1%. The gross enrollment ratio? 1.5%. There is no civil war, a minimal influx of refugees from neighbouring countries and a relatively stable political system in comparison to many African countries. Yet unfortunately, Niger is consistently at the bottom of UN indexes for almost every category of analysis – Adult Literacy Rate, Education Development Index, and Human Development Index.

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