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SENEGAL: Scrambling to Keep Up With Education For All

Souleymane Faye

DIOHINE, Senegal, Oct 2 2009 (IPS) - In Diohine, a village of some 3,000 inhabitants in the Fatick region of central Senegal, real progress has been made towards educating all children, in spite of a lack of infrastructure.

Diohine has two public primary schools, each serving different neighbourhoods, and a third, privately-run Catholic school that was the first to be established, in 1948.

According to Nicolas Diouf, a teacher at the Catholic school, “Every child of school-going age is enrolled, be it in a public or private school.”

The objective of the “Primary Education for All”, developed and implemented by the Senegalese government under the auspices of the United Nations, “will be reached, even before 2015,” says an optimistic Diouf.

He tells IPS that at the Diohine Catholic school, enrolment fees and school fees amount to 24,300 CFA francs (about $53) per pupil a year, excluding supplies. In public schools, which do not charge school fees, parents pay only and enrolment fee of 1,500 FCFA (about $3.20).

Diouf says in 2008-2009 his school had a total of 285 pupils in seven classes, an average of 40 per class. The same year, Public School No. 1 had 682 students in 13 classes, an average of 52 per class. The smaller Public School No. 2 had just 79 pupils in two classes.)

Since 2002 the Senegalese government has been implementing a Ten-Year Plan for education and training, involving the an awareness campaign on the importance of schooling in villages and massive recruitment of teachers. For the past few years the state has allocated 45 percent of its budget to the education sector.

The message has been well-received by Diohine’s residents, mostly poor farmers who primarily cultivate millet, peanuts having become unprofitable in recent years because of a partial withdrawal of state funding in the marketing of the product.

“We have no problem with schooling, we perhaps have had problems around finding the means to educate our children,” says Gérôme Diouf, president of the parents’ association of Public School No 1.

“Any reluctance to educate girls as well as boys was overcome. The problem is solved; boys and girls in Diohine are all sent to school,” says Charles Diagne, principal of Public School No 1.

But he laments having a makeshift shelter at his school. Recent growth in student numbers has outstripped space to hold them.

“The public schools use temporary shelters because IDEN planned to develop classes that could not be built on time. It was expected classes would be held, and students were enrolled – then construction fell behind,” explains Abdoulaye Bitèye, planner at IDEN – Inspection départementale de l’éducation nationale, the national department with overall responsibility for education – in Fatick tells IPS.

If nothing is done, the problem will only grow. Bitèye says in the next school year, public school No 1 is expecting 162 new pupils to enrol for introductory courses, of whom 102 have already done so. Public School No. 2 is expecting 54 pupils to enrol, of whom 52 have already done so.

Serigne Fallou Mboup, planner at the Inspéction d’académie for the Fatick region, (the administrative body responsible for primary and secondary education) says, “If the classes are not built or are still under construction, we will quickly make canopies (often made of thatched straw and tree branches) to enable children to learn.” He says there is no concern about welcoming new students for the next school year.

Unlike public schools, the private Catholic school shuns the use of temporary shelters. “We charge for our services, which obliges us to house our students in good conditions,” says its director, Emile Thiaw.

On August 21, government launched a programme to build 4,360 classrooms in Senegal between 2010 and 2011. Called Fast Track, the programme is funded by the World Bank and other financial partners in Senegal, to the tune of $86.9 million).

According to the Minister of Elementary, Middle and Secondary Education, Kalidou Diallo, Senegal needs 11,000 new classrooms. Among these, it is hoped there will be a permanent building for Diohine’s Public School No 1.

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