The Education Sector as an Engine for Inclusive Growth in Mauritania

 In its bid to diversify its economy so as to foster sustainable growth, one of the challenges facing Mauritania is improving its education system, which is an impediment to economic growth and social inclusion. So says the Third Economic Update for Mauritania published today by the World Bank.

Titled Improving education to foster social cohesion and support economic development, the report notes that fiscal reforms adopted since 2016 by the Mauritanian authorities have helped restore the macroeconomic balance. While its economy grew by 5.9% in 2019, up from 2.1% in 2018—its highest growth rate since 2006—Mauritania continues to lag comparator countries in terms of socioeconomic development. 

“In light of the COVID-19 crisis, it is especially important to continue implementing reforms already under way in the education sector in order to improve living standards, increase social cohesion, and ensure long-lasting, inclusive growth,” notes Samer Matta, World Bank economist and lead author of the report.  

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a major impact on the short- and medium-term outlook. The economic slowdown in Europe and China triggered by the pandemic will impact Mauritania’s growth and lower demand for Mauritanian exports. Rising uncertainty, social distancing measures, and the closing of borders, restaurants, and markets could lead to a sharp decline in domestic consumption in Mauritania. As a result, GDP growth could plummet from 5.9% in 2019 to between -2% and -6.8% in 2020.   

The report devotes a special chapter to the education sector in Mauritania and analyzes the status quo and performance of the education system. It also proposes reforms to be implemented to improve the system. Mauritania has made significant strides in recent years in terms of access to and gender equality in education, one of the government’s priorities. Laurent Msellati, World Bank Country Manager for Mauritania, states that “progress made to date nevertheless remains modest because of the challenges in Mauritania’s education system, particularly against the backdrop of the current COVID-19 crisis, which has widened social inequalities in terms of access to quality education across the entire country.”

The report notes that these challenges are attributable to several factors, in particular inadequate teaching conditions, a shortage of qualified teachers, and poor governance of the sector, whether in terms of teacher assignment or operational management of schools, resulting in the inefficient use of resources. 

If the education sector is to fulfill its role as a social ladder, the government must scale up its investments and focus on improving the quality of teachers, reducing absenteeism, and ensuring greater community engagement at the local level.