More than 60% of Sub-Saharan African adolescents struggle to catch up on their education after COVID-19 pandemic, 18% report signs of mental health challenges

In This Story

People Mentioned in This Story

A new study led by Assistant Professor Dongqing Wang evaluated the continued challenges to adolescents’ education and mental health in five sub-Saharan African countries.

Dongqing Wang

Adolescents around the world lost educational ground because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have not yet recovered fully recovered educationally or mentally. Even before the pandemic, the educational systems in many sub-Saharan African countries had limited resources for hybrid and online learning, and the health and well-being of adolescents have been historically underserved in these countries.

A new study led by Assistant Professor Dongqing Wang found that nearly two-thirds of adolescents overall in the included sub-Saharan African countries experienced difficulty in catching up on their education after returning to school. The percentage varied by country (lowest in Tanzania and highest in Burkina Faso). Adolescents still experiencing the impacts of the pandemic on their daily lives also experience a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.

“The pandemic has further highlighted inequities in education in these sub-Saharan countries. As the world continues to battle and recover from COVID-19, concerted and collaborative efforts are needed to ensure that the often-neglected sub-Saharan African adolescents do not fall further behind and have the maximal likelihood of reaching their full potential in their future lives despite the pandemic,” said Wang.

This study highlights the continued impacts of the pandemic on adolescent education and mental health and that the adverse impacts disproportionately affect certain demographic and socioeconomic groups, including adolescent girls, adolescents in rural settings, and adolescents in schools closed for extended periods. The study found that a longer duration of school closure was associated with greater difficulty catching up on lost education. Additionally, girls were less likely than boys to receive fully in-person education following school reopening, and adolescents residing in rural areas were also less likely to receive any education following school reopening. 

The continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and mental health among sub-Saharan African adolescents was published online in November 2022 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The paper included 27 additional authors from universities in the United States, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Germany, and South Africa.

Data were collected via a phone survey among adolescents in diverse areas in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania between July and December 2021. This study received institutional support from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University Center for African Studies, Heidelberg Institute of Global Health (Germany), and the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.