What does the African Education Research Database tell us about research in West Africa?

Inclusive group work at a rural primary school in Uganda. Photo credit: Mark Smith/Enable-Ed ©

The AREB Conference

As experts gather at a Conference – “Education in Burkina Faso: Progress, Current Challenges and Prospects” – hosted by the Education Research Network in Burkina Faso (Atelier de recherche sur l'éducation au Burkina Faso – AREB) in Ouagadougou on 29th – 1st December 2017, this blog outlines what we know about research on education in the countries represented.

This conference, supported by the Agence Française de développement (AFD), which involves education researchers from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal, is a valuable opportunity for us to learn more about education research in the sub-region and add more studies to the African Education Research Database which is being developed.

The blog reports on emerging findings from a project being undertaken by the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge in partnership with Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA). As part of the project we are cataloguing, reviewing and synthesising education research conducted by researchers and institutions in Africa. This will lead to an open access database of policy- and practice-relevant evidence which will appear online in 2018.

So far studies have been identified by searching academic databases and consulting experts in the field. The process is still underway; ‘grey’ (unpublished) literature databases are yet to be searched, and studies identified through the consultation await processing. However, this blog is a chance to reflect on early findings from the project based on our analysis of the database, with a focus on those countries that will be represented at the conference.

The African Education Research Database: some preliminary observations

The database currently contains over 2,000 studies covering the period 2012-2017. While it is too early to draw firm conclusions from the data available to date, some general observations can be made. The higher tiers of education systems receive considerably more attention than the lower tiers. Roughly 30% of studies relate to higher education, 23% to secondary education, 15% to primary education, and 2% to early childhood education. This is perhaps surprising considering that much of the policy debate in recent times has focused on the importance of starting early if inequalities in education are to be tackled. It would, therefore, be worth considering whether there is a need for a wider evidence-base on access and quality in relation to early childhood education and the early years of primary school.

In terms of thematic areas, teaching methods and teacher training are the focus of around 11% and 13% of studies, respectively. Slightly more attention is paid to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education and training (16%), which again may prompt concerns about whether the research is tackling issues that are likely to provide lessons for the most disadvantaged, since less than one quarter of rural schools in the region have access to electricity.

Figure 1 and Table 1 show geographical coverage of the research included in the database (excluding South Africa, which has a markedly different research landscape). Of the countries participating in the conference, only Ghana appears in the top 15.

Figure 1. Overview of studies by country


Table 1. Top 15 countries in the database

Country
# of studies
Nigeria
398
Kenya
174
Ghana
154
Tanzania
101
Uganda
91
Ethiopia
82
Zimbabwe
79
Botswana
70
Country
# of studies
Malawi
41
Mauritius
26
Zambia
25
Cameroon
23
Rwanda
23
Mozambique
20
Swaziland
17
   

Focusing on Francophone research

Research from Francophone countries, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, is poorly represented in the database so far. While the sources that have been searched do include publications in French, it is likely that the information is not comprehensive. A more detailed picture of French research requires additional searches in specialist language databases, such as HAL. Such searches will be undertaken in the coming months.

This is also why the Conference provides such a valuable opportunity to learn more about research which may otherwise be missed with respect to the four countries that will be represented. Table 2 provides an overview of studies currently included in the database from these countries.

Table 2. Overview of studies from the ‘AREB Conference’ countries

 
Ghana
Burkina Faso
Senegal
Côte d’Ivoire
Total
Articles
124
8
6
3
141
Chapters
11
2
1
2
16
Conference papers
3
0
2
0
5
Working papers
2
0
0
0
2
PhD theses
1
0
0
0
1
Total
141
10
9
5
165

 
In the case of each country, the research profile is skewed towards outputs which feature in academic databases (reflecting the current phase of the mapping project). Quantitative studies are most prevalent (38%), followed by qualitative (26%) and mixed methods studies (15%). This broadly reflects the pattern of research methods across countries included in the database. In terms of research foci, ‘gender disparities’ is a concern shared by researchers in all four countries. Higher education is a common theme in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. ‘Access to education’ is a major focus in the three Francophone countries, which is perhaps not surprising given that the sub-region includes countries furthest from achieving national and global goals.

We look forward to the Conference as an opportunity to learn a lot more about research in the region. We encourage readers of this blog to inform us of studies for consideration in the database through the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/BLXMHBT or by using the Twitter hashtag #AfricaEducationResearch, or emailing Dr. Rafael Mitchell, rm882@cam.ac.uk directly.

Themes: