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The Status of Primary and Secondary Education in Senegal

Updated on November 26, 2014


In my personal efforts to help my colleagues research and better understand the role the daara system and the inhumane treatment of the students at these schools plays in the access to universal education in Senegal, I have discovered some interesting evidence. Apart of this evidence that I have discovered is the enrollment and participation of children at public primary and secondary schools. Even though enrollment in Senegalese schools has increased over the years and continues to, changes are very small. Children are still not completing primary school in large numbers, there is a higher ratio of boys to girls, and many children don't even reach secondary school, let alone finish it. This has led me to wonder: what is going on with the access to universal education in Senegal, and despite efforts for change, do these problems still exist? Furthermore, it has led me to wonder if issues regarding the daara system can partially help to explain the social and anthropological perceptions behind public education in Senegal are maybe a clue: a clue as to why not every child is getting a primary and/or a secondary education in Senegal. This article will explore these issues and thoughts.

Book Donations the Sama Tata Foundation Received for Schools in Senegal


Primary Education in Senegal

Universal education is free and compulsory to all children, no matter the gender or economic status in Senegal. It is guaranteed in the Senegalese constitution, and there is also legislature that supports universal education. Furthermore, the Senegalese government has partnered with non-profits, and other international agencies to help improve primary and secondary school enrollment. Even though this has resulted in higher enrollment rates (92% attending Senegalese schools in 2009 in comparison to 69% in 2000 according to the latest numbers from USAID) problems still persist.

First, is the issue of children actually attending school in the first place. According to UNICEF numbers for I want to say 2009 or 2010, Senegalese primary school enrollment rates were 50% for boys and about 45% for girls. There are several reasons why a child in Senegal may not end up attending primary school at all. One, is the fact that the education and participation of girls in society beyond that of a homemaker/future wife is still a culturally accepted norm in Senegal. Therefore, girls will often be encouraged to work alongside their parents and/or stay home either because the girl can help the family earn an income and her prospect of marrying someday is more important than an education, and/or the family is under the belief that a girl must prepare for marriage and a life as a homemaker rather than get an education like her male counterparts. Decisions in traditional Senegalese homes are often made by the father; even if the wife disagrees, the wife is to obey what her husband says and the children likewise. Therefore, if the father does accept the cultural norm that a girl doesn't need to be educated, there is a chance that the wife will not try to persuade her husband to reconsider their daughter's educational future, nor will the daughter. Two, a destitute family is more likely to encourage their children to stay home rather than go to school if that child can help provide an income for the family. Most of the time girls are encouraged to stay home, however this can also affect a boy's ability to go to school. Three, the public education by some in Senegal is seen to be a reminder of Post-Colonialism. The system hasn't changed much since the French Colonial era, when the use of the French language and learning the same subjects that children learned in schools back in France was a sign of civilization, but progress for the indigenous living in Senegal during this time period. When the French colony of West Africa was dissolved around 1960, the French pretty much left most of the political/social infrastructure they had created. The French didn't take the chance to work with local, indigenous officials to create a socio-political structure that worked with their needs, expectations and most importantly, their socio-anthropolical identity. Therefore, this explains why some parents decide to not send their children to the public schools, or in some cases, to alternative forms of education, like the daara system.

Secondary School Education in Senegal

If you thought primary school education institutions had low enrollment rates, the current enrollment rates in secondary schools are even worse. In recent years, secondary school enrollment rates have risen, however they tend to be about 10%-20% lower than primary school rates. The reason why enrollment rates are so low in secondary school in comparison to primary school is that children often don't complete primary school; even if they meet the requirements to enter secondary school, children often don't graduate. This happens because children often leave school to help provide an income for their families, and/or the value of education is just not there for the children

The Quality of Universal Education in Senegal

If student enrollment wasn't bad enough, most schools don't even have the proper books, educational materials and even properly trained teachers! CONFEMAN, a non-profit organization based in the African continent, has analyzed many of the issues that universal education faces in many African countries. Several of the issues they noticed in West African states in regards to their universal education systems are that the teachers aren't always properly trained and that the proper books and educational materials aren't available. The reason why most public schools don't have the proper educational materials and books is because of budget cuts and limited funds related to education. Therefore, public schools either have very few books, or use very outdated materials to teach their students. In regards to teachers, very few of the individuals hired to teach in public schools lack the educational background and/or training to work in the school system. Senegal is no odd exception. I know my volunteers and I have school officials come up to us all the time to ask for books and funds to help improve their schools. A year ago, my colleague, Bineta Diop, received a donation of children's books which we had our volunteers in Dakar, Senegal distribute to a local schools.

How to Resolve Universal Eduaction Issues in Senegal

There is no easy answer regarding how to resolve the issues regarding universal education in Senegal. However, there is hope at least. UNICEF, and other organizations are working to encourage more children to attend school, in particular girls. There are local teachers working with families to make sure that more girls and boys are able to attend school. The United Nations, through its Global Universal Education initiative, is helping to encourage higher student enrollment in public schools not only in Senegal, but around the world. However, it's going to take changes in Senegal's battle with poverty, and the Senegalese government's own initiative to encourage children not only to go back to school, but to make sure the proper resources and teachers are available to students and ready to teach them.

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