The numbers of children with access to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa have increased substantially over the last two decades but many still remain out of school. Some fail to enrol at all, especially in fragile states, and many more start school but do not complete the basic cycle. Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have generated commitments to improve greatly access to education. This paper first develops an expanded vision of access. Second, it analyses participation by grade and identifies five different country patterns. Third, changes in enrolments over time are explored which show that in some countries progress has been very uneven and that overall expansion may conceal large increases in lower grades and little change in completion rates. Fourth, data on age in grade are used to show that many children are overage and this may have consequences for attempts to lower dropout and improve completion rates. Fifth, participation by household income remains very uneven, especially at secondary level and wealth remains the most powerful determinant of progression to higher educational levels. Sixth, there has been good progress on some other sources of inequality, e.g. gender disparities, but much remains to be achieved, especially in fragile states. Concluding remarks draw out some policy related conclusions for future EFA priorities.
Comparative Education (2009) 45 (2) 151-174 [doi: 10.1080/03050060902920518]