Pressure on rich nations
Africa needs an extra pound;4 billion a year if all its children are to have free basic education, says the Commission for Africa in a report to be presented to the G8 group of wealthy countries at their summit in July.
Some 40 million children are currently out of school in sub-Saharan Africa.
While governments are committed to the goal of universal primary education by 2015, the commission wants free "basic education", defined as a nine-year cycle of primary and lower secondary education.
Demand for early secondary education has rocketed because of progress in primary enrolments - up 48 per cent between 1990 and 2001. But even universal primary education is still far from being achieved in Africa. In Burkina Faso, Niger and Angola the average child gets less than five years of formal schooling. More than 60 per cent of children drop out of school in Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar and Rwanda.
The Africa Commission is recommending an increase in aid budgets and the complete cancellation of African countries' debt.
Anne Jellema of the lobby group the Global Campaign for Education said this would unlock the door to future funds but warned that the G8 needs to honour existing promises now. "We urgently need to find $1.4bn (pound;730 million) in July," she said.
Without it, African countries will be unable to implement existing plans.
Ghana has just a quarter of the teachers it requires and Lesotho just one-fifth. In Burkina Faso the teacher shortage has been declared a national emergency with people contracted from across the public sector while new teachers are being trained.
Over the past three years government-to-government aid for education in Africa has averaged $400m a year but only 30 per cent of this goes towards schools and teachers. The rest is swallowed by "technical co-operation", training, consultancies and research reports.
The commission recommends African countries take the lead by abolishing all school fees, but the heavily indebted cannot afford to, Ms Jellema said.
"Countries like Senegal and Rwanda that really want to provide decent free education for every child would do so if they knew it would not run up a huge deficit."
When Zambia tried to increase the number of teachers, it was in danger of breaching rules set by the International Monetary Fund, which said its public-sector wage bill should not exceed 8 per cent of GDP. Schools had to close their doors to new pupils. Some 9,000 new teachers are required in Zambia to cope with the current demand.