How can Côte d'Ivoire improve the education of its citizens?


A decade-long political crisis dealt a blow to Côte d’ Ivoire’s education system, which has suffered from years of underinvestment both in infrastructure and human resources. The government has made considerable strides, however, since 2011 to improve and invest in the sector, as well as to boost access across the country by building schools, recruiting teachers and making school compulsory for children aged six to 16 years. Evidence of the sector’s progress and importance to the economy came to the fore in March 2020, when the authorities turned to technology to ensure the continued education of Ivorians amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Structure & Oversight

Côte d’Ivoire’s education system consists of public and private institutions, as well as community schools organised by rural communities. Inherited from the period of French colonial rule, the Ivorian education system is divided into preschool education (three years); primary education (six years), upon completion of which students are given a certificate of elementary primary education (certificat d’études primaires élémentaires, CEPE); secondary education, divided into middle school (four years), after which students receive a brevet d’études du premier cycle (a lower secondary education certificate), and high school (three years), after which students take the examen national du baccalauréat, or baccalaureate, which grants access to higher education.

Public schools dominate the preschool and primary levels, while the majority of secondary, higher education and vocational institutes are private, according to official figures. “In recent years the level of sophistication in the private schooling system has radically improved,” Aka Kouamé, managing director of Institut Universitaire d’Abidjan, told OBG. “Before, a handful of schools engaged in good practices, but competition has led to improvements in quality.” Preschool, primary, secondary education and vocational training are overseen by the Ministry of National Education, Technical and Vocational Training (Ministère de l’Education Nationale, de l’Enseignement Technique et de la Formation Professionnelle, MENETFP), while higher education is overseen by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.


Education is outlined as a priority in Côte d’Ivoire’s National Development Plan 2016-20. The plan outlines five pillars that support the African nation in its goal of becoming an emerging market with a strong industrial base and improved standards of living. To complement the strategy, the government developed the Education and Training Sector Plan 2016-25 (Plan Sectoriel Education/Formation 2016-25, PSE). As part of the PSE, €1.34m was earmarked for the 2017-20 period, a large part of which was for the implementation of the compulsory education scheme launched in 2015.

Public education spending increased in recent years, from CFA1.2trn ($2.1bn) in 2016 to CFA1.3trn ($2.2bn) in 2019. Preschool and primary schools received the biggest share of the expenditure with CFA557bn ($957.5m), followed by secondary education and vocational training with CFA481.9bn ($828.4m), and university and research with CFA250.6bn ($430.8m). The education sector’s share of total public administration spending declined, from 20.9% in 2012 to 18.6% in 2017, according to UNESCO. In 2019 education accounted for around 18% of the CFA6.7trn ($11.5bn) state budget. Overall, Côte d’Ivoire plans to spend CFA5.3trn ($9.1bn) on education between 2017 and 2020.


The number of preschools in Côte d’ Ivoire has almost doubled since 2012. There were 3151 facilities in operation during the 2018/19 academic year, up from 1595 in 2012/13, while the number of classrooms rose from 3803 in 2012/13 to 7042 in 2018/19. Around 72% of preschool facilities were public, 27% were private and 0.5% were community schools. The number of pupils and teaching personnel also rose over this period. There were 188,147 pupils in 2018/19, up from 111,384 in 2012/13, while the number of teachers nearly doubled to 9533 in 2018/19.

Primary Education

There has also been a significant expansion in primary schools, with the number of facilities increasing from 12,916 in 2012/13 to 17,615 in the 2018/19 academic year. The number of classrooms rose from 70,296 in 2012/13 to 95,866 in 2018/19. Of these, 81% were public, 14% were private and 5% were community schools. Around 63% of primary schools were located in rural areas, while the remaining 37% were in urban areas and cities.

The number of pupils increased by 25%, from around 3m in 2012/13 to more than 4m in 2018/19. That year enrolment rates reached 91.3%, compared with 77% in 2013/14, suggesting that efforts to improve access to primary schools, especially in rural areas, have paid off. Likewise, 84.4% received the CEPE certificate in 2019, up from 67% in 2013. However, there is still room to improve the quality of primary education. Even with the numbers of teachers increasing from 73,691 in 2012/13 to 96,255 in 2018/19, the ratio of students to teachers has remained high, at 42:1 in 2018/19. As such, performance is uneven, with the World Bank reporting less than 50% of the primary schools pupils have adequate reading and mathematical skills.

Secondary Education

There were 1778 secondary schools operating in the 2017/18 school year for a total of 1.9m pupils, up from 1238 facilities and 1.2m pupils in 2012/13. The number of classrooms rose from 20,491 in 2012/13 to 22,192 in 2017/18, while the number of teachers increased by 18% to 59,356 in 2017/18.

Secondary education is dominated by the private sector. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the facilities are private, but about 50% of pupils are enrolled in public schools. Even as the numbers of teachers and classrooms rose in recent years, the ratio of students to classrooms remains high, standing at 58 per class in 2017/18. Unsurprisingly, the situation is difficult in public schools, which have an average ratio of 87 pupils per class, compared with 43 in private facilities. Secondary education is also less accessible than primary, especially in rural areas. The net enrolment rate in the first cycle of secondary school was 42.6% in 2017/18.

Higher Education

Côte d’Ivoire’s higher education system comprises public institutions – universities or grandes écoles – and private institutions. A bachelor’s-master’s-doctorate system, which brought the standards of the country’s higher education institutions in line with the standards of those in European countries, was implemented in both public and private universities in 2013 to boost the system’s competitiveness and international recognition.

The number of students in public higher education schools increased from 169,946 students in 2013 to 202,509 in 2016. In 2015 there were 78,047 students enrolled in public universities, representing 40% of total students, with 60% enrolled in private schools.

Public higher education was severely affected by the decade-long crisis and continues to struggle with capacity. “At this level things are not progressing because of strikes and the high student-to-teacher ratio,” Yssouf Touré, director of the language department at private engineering school Agitel Formation, told OBG. “Our student-teacher ratio is not up to international standards. The state is doing a lot to recruit teachers and other staff, and also to build universities, but this lack of capacity has created challenges.”

In February 2019 Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri, the minister of higher education and scientific research, told local press that between CFA300bn ($515.7m) and CFA400bn ($687.6m) will be invested in the coming years to expand the University of Man and build the universities of San Pédro in the south-west and Bondoukou in the east. Additionally, construction on universities located in Adiaké, Abengourou, Dabou, Daoukro and Odienné will commence in 2021, the minister said.

The higher-level education system is dependent on private institutions to absorb the growing number of students who have graduated from high school. While they are often considered as second-class education for students not admitted to public establishments, private institutions are training the majority of students. However, private institutions are costly, with annual fees reaching up to CFA1m ($1720), compared with CFA50,000 ($86) for public universities.

The education system – both public and private – has struggled to provide the knowledge and training that matches the needs of the labour market. “Employers complain that students do not have the proper training to integrate into the professional fabric,” Touré told OBG. “Things need to change, and it is essential that we do not train people who will end up being unemployed.”

Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Côte d’ Ivoire is facing a youth bulge. Around 42% of the population is under the age of 15, with 50% under the age of 20. Even though the number of teachers increased and more schools were built, it has not been enough to absorb the number of pupils. “Higher education facilities are finding themselves receiving more and more graduates every year, but the campuses in general do not have the capacity to accommodate all these students,” Souleymane Soumahoro, director of studies at the Ecole de Commerce et de Gestion (ECG), told OBG.

Vocational Training

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is usually taught in twoor three-year programmes. The segment is dominated by private institutions, which account for about 90% of all establishments. The number of TVET institutions increased significantly, from 433 in the 2011/12 academic year to 747 in 2017/18. Of these, 62 were public, 685 were private and 13 were dedicated to intervention in rural areas. Alongside this, the number of students enrolled in TVET rose, from 39,365 in 2010/11 to 105,353 in 2015/16, with 62% in private schools.

However, the number of TVET students is comparatively low, and accounted for approximately 6.1% of all students enrolled in secondary education in the 2015/16 academic year. “One of the biggest challenges for TVET institutions is to recruit students,” Caroline Okei, director of studies at the Ecole Internationale de Formation Professionnelle, told OBG. “There is a negative stigma associated with vocational training, and many continue to think that people only receive such training when they failed in the general curriculum.”

This reputation is partly due to the segment’s weak performance, reflected in a 2016 draft report by the government that highlighted a decline in the quality of training, the weak integration of trainees into the economic fabric, a lack of diversification of programmes and inadequate infrastructure.

To address these shortfalls, the authorities are working together with the private sector to reform TVET, with the ultimate goal of boosting the employment rate of young apprentices from 14% in 2016 to 50% in 2020. The private sector will be involved in the design of the training programmes to better match the training on offer with the needs of the job market, while the government will restructure curricula.


ICT has the potential to improve access to education in the face of demographic pressure and infrastructure shortages, particularly in rural areas. In 2015 the government launched the Virtual University of Côte d’Ivoire (Université Virtuelle de Côte d’ Ivoire, UVCI), which offers remote courses. In June 2018 the UVCI signed an agreement with France Université Numérique, France’s national platform for massive open online courses, and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or the Francophonie University Association, to create a massive open online course with unlimited participation and open access. “Today, the trend is to go digital,” Touré told OBG. “Technology gives us a great opportunity to address the issues linked to infrastructure and reduce the cost of education.”

Students in urban areas have benefitted from e-learning. “We expected students located in cities other than Abidjan to have a bigger need for e-learning, as access is generally more limited,” Adama Koné, managing director of ECG, told OBG. “However, we found that e-learning platforms were important tools for individuals in Abidjan, as many do not have the time to go to school. Students with busy schedules tend to find e-learning useful because of its convenience.”


In mid-March 2020 the country closed schools in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19, with the country reporting 1275 cases and 14 deaths as of April 30, 2020. That month the MENETFP launched free online education courses, giving students access to learning materials via dedicated websites, as well as Facebook and YouTube. One of the dedicated platforms is Etudesk. The Abidjan-based start-up, which enables academic institutions and businesses to create and host online training, became one of Africa’s first online learning platforms upon its launch in 2016. The provider is coordinating with the MENETFP to service 15 institutions, including a primary school, a business school, a management school and a real estate training school.

The government is also working with UNICEF on a School at Home initiative that features taped lessons aired on television during the period that schools are closed. Moreover, the UVCI launched a platform to provide digital solutions to private companies, associations, and non-governmental and religious organisations to ensure continuity of services and address customer needs in response to the pandemic.


Côte d’Ivoire’s efforts to boost access to education have had positive results at the primary level, where attendance rates have surged. Despite investment aimed at recruiting teachers and building facilities, the situation continues to be more challenging at other levels. Access to secondary education remains limited and classes in public high schools overcrowded. Higher education, largely dependent on private institutions, needs restructuring to bring training in line with the expectations of the labour market. While demographics have placed significant pressure on the system and will necessitate more investment to advance all levels, plans to build more public universities, develop new trainings and reform vocational education bode well for the future of both the sector and the country.

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