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Senegal: Successful partnerships open school doors for girls

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©UNICEF/Brigitte Stark-Merklein
Mme Mbow, left, the school principal and representatives of the parents, mothers and teachers associations who actively participate in the management of the school.

DAKAR, Senegal – It is early in the morning and not all the children have arrived yet, but the school yard at Ndiarème B primary school in the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, is already bustling. Girls and boys are busy sweeping dusty floors and filling plastic bottles with water for the flowerbeds outside their class rooms.

Flowers and colourful wall paintings give the school a friendly look. The bell rings and Maguette Mbow, the school principal, watches proudly as groups of chatting and giggling children make their way to class. Ms. Mbow knows most of them by name and many, especially girls, are here thanks to her persuasion skills that convinced their parents to enroll them in school.

Ms. Mbow has other reasons to be proud. Ndiarème B primary school made the news five years ago, when United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan launched the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative here.

The Initiative relies heavily on partnerships between a broad range of stakeholders – from teachers, headmasters and governors to pupils, parents and the wider community – and there couldn’t be a better example of partnerships in action than Ndiarème B.

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© UNICEF/Brigitte Stark-Merklein
Girls cleaning up the courtyard at Ndiarème B Primary School. Ndiarème B is a child-friendly school where parents and students participate to keep the school environment clean and healthy.

It was great for the school and the children [that Kofi Annan came here], but with or without the Secretary General’s visit, we have been working to get girls in school and make sure that they finish at least primary,” says Ms. Mbow.

At Ndiarème B, parents, teachers and mothers associations, a women’s collective and a network of volunteers are actively involved in managing the school. Together, they do repair and maintenance work and run yearly campaigns to enroll out-of-school children.

Departmental Committees for the Promotion of Girls’ Education within the Ministry of Education are working with headmasters on the ground and take part in enrolment campaigns.

And there are other stakeholders who joined forces to help. Three of the school’s 12 class rooms were built by the Senegalese government and the others by Aide et Action and the Islamic Development Bank. UNICEF financed a water well equipped with a pump, and the National Sanitation Department of Senegal, supported by the World Bank, installed separate latrines for boys and girls. Plan International provides school supplies and UNFPA pays for make-up lessons for girls.

“We have to work in synergy if we want to succeed,” explains Ms. Mbow.

Community and partner efforts are bearing fruit and today, 49 per cent of students at Ndiarème B are girls, as compared to 35 per cent in 1996, when the school first opened.

Similar achievements have been made throughout Senegal . Government and communities conduct massive annual enrolment campaigns, and since 1994, enrolment rates have increased by 30 points, reaching 80 per cent for boys and 77.3 per cent for girls. During the 2004 campaign, as many girls as boys registered for primary school, country-wide.

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©UNICEF/Brigitte Stark-Merklein
Girls playing soccer at Ndiarème B Primary School. The school has 3 co-ed soccer teams that play regularly.

Partnership efforts bring gains for girls, but more needs to be done

This progress could not have been achieved without government and partnership efforts, and the interest of a watchful public.

“The media has played an active role in shaping political will and public perception about girls’ education in Senegal ,” says Ibrahima Mbodji, correspondent for Le Soleil, a major Dakar newspaper, and vice-president of the journalist network for education.

"Journalists first started tackling education issues in the 1990s, especially those facing girls, and have kept interest ever since.”

“Personally, I want Senegal to advance,” Mr. Modji adds. “To develop the country, we need men and women, and both have to be educated.”

Throughout much of Senegal , progress in access to education remains clouded by high drop-out rates, especially for girls.

According to Ms. Mbow, “Girls, more so than boys, are often forced to drop out of school because they have to help with household chores, or they are married off at an early age so that their families have one less mouth to feed. Some may be driven to prostitution to supplement family income.”

Girls also tend to drop out when they don’t perform well (often due to lack of time for studies and homework), or because their parents don’t see much relevance for daily life in the ‘Western’ education being taught at school.

Educating girls benefits society

The benefits of educating girls are broadly recognized. Educated girls who later become mothers are likely to have healthier and better educated children, and they have better chances to break the cycle of poverty for themselves, their families and communities.

In Senegal , the government allocates a record 33 per cent of state budget to education and takes responsibility for the construction of school buildings and teachers’ salaries. Basic schooling is free and mandatory, and the government provides supplies for school administrators.

Still, parents and communities have to pitch in and bear costs for water, electricity, telephone and repair work – expenses that force some families to withdraw their children, especially girls, from school.

“Access for girls is no longer an issue for us,” says Ms. Mbow, “We have almost more girls than boys enrolled at the moment. But when it comes to keeping them in school to complete a basic education, we still have a long way to go.”

Cooperation is the way forward

Despite persistent challenges, Mr. Mbodji is optimistic. “I think that it is possible to reach education for all in Senegal , even before 2015,” he says.

No matter what the projection, it is clear that all stakeholders have to do their part to help tackle the issues – in an integrated and inclusive manner.

Ms. Mbow and the women from Ndiarème B have some clear ideas how to keep their girls in school. “We need to serve children a meal at school so that they can learn better, especially those who are too poor to bring their own food; we need help to set up a computer workshop or some other activity to earn the money we need to pay for school supplies and repairs; a school pharmacy for first aid; and a school library.”

Never shy when Ndiarème B is at stake, Ms. Mbow just sent a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, to remind him of his promise five years ago to help her school. “Just want to make sure that help keeps coming,” she says.


 

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