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Science - Education

Slow progress for literacy in Senegal

Schoolgirl in Gorée, outside Dakar

© Ferdinand Reus/Creative Commons/afrol News
afrol News, 14 January
- Still, more than half of Senegalese adults are illiterate, new data show. Despite massive investments in literacy programmes since 1990, progress is only slow. Limited funding and quick population growth makes the task difficult.

Kishore Singh, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, today praised Senegal authorities for their efforts and gains in the fight against illiteracy. He cited new government statistics, showing that only 47 percent of Senegalese are literate and 2.7 million children remain out of school.

Senegal has among Africa's lowest literacy rates, but this has been the situation since before independence in 1960. Indeed, when French colonial authorities vacated their Dakar offices, only 34 percent of adult Senegalese men and women could read and write.

According to researcher Bjorn Harald Nordtveit, the new government of Senegal in the first decades after independence made little efforts to improve the country's poor literacy standing. "In 1988, a census found that 69 percent of the Senegalese population was illiterate," according to Mr Nordtveit. Illiteracy had been allowed to spread.

This caused authorities to react, and in the early 1990s, ambitious literacy programmes were adopted, with massive foreign donor support. The aim, set in 1993, was to "reduce the illiteracy rate by 5 percent per year."

This was not achieved, although millions of Senegalese were sent to school for the first time in the 1990s. The national literacy rate rose from 31 percent in 1988 to 39.3 percent in 2002. By now, according to the new data, it has leaped to 47 percent.

"Senegal has achieved important advances in access to primary schools over the last decade; however, as children finally arrive to the class room, quality of education must be ensured," comments the UN's Mr Singh, holding the challenges to reach universal education in Senegal remain as high as ever.

"Without well trained and motivated teachers, without access to adequate pedagogical materials and without any capacity to teach in mother tongue languages at primary levels, the impact of increased enrolment will be limited," the UN expert said at a press conference in Dakar.

Among the challenges, Mr Singh cited the fact that 2.7 million Senegalese children remain out of school. Also, despite efforts to build new schools, infrastructure was "still inadequate and classrooms are overcrowded" in many places. Private schooling was on the rise and abusive business practices were an emerging concern, Mr Singh added.

The expert also highlighted the challenges faced by girls in schools. "Senegal achieved gender parity at primary levels, but girls are not having the same progression as boys at higher levels; early marriage and pregnancies, domestic work, and abusive teachers are all serious concerns that can contribute to take girls out of schools."

He further stressed that complaint mechanisms "must be established" to detect any violence or abuse in educational environments. "Schools must offer truly safe learning environments, and students and their families must have access to support and remedy whenever their rights are violated." Mr Singh had also visited daaras - private Quranic schools - during his stay in Senegal.

The UN expert finally advised that greater attention should be paid to ensuring that resources for education were well targeted and timely spent, and also called for increased support for technical schooling and enhanced investment in social protection schemes to help marginalised children get an education.

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