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Partnering for a common goal: Overcoming barriers to education in Senegal

January 05, 2023

A student does math problems during a lesson at a “daara” (community school) in Medina Gounass, Senegal.

A student does math problems during a lesson at a “daara” (community school) in Medina Gounass, Senegal. Photo credit: Nianthio Pro for FHI 360

A lack of access to quality and relevant education, low attendance, and insecurity are some hurdles that can stand in the way of a child's future success in Senegal. The country has a high budget for education, but literacy, enrollment in secondary school, and the average number of years in school are low. A third of children ages 6–16 are not in school, and three-quarters of them have never attended.1

FHI 360 works to increase access to high-quality, relevant education for young learners across Senegal’s southern region of Casamance through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Passerelles (French for “gateways”) project. Working with Senegal’s Ministry of Education, FHI 360 convenes local communities and collaborates specifically with “daaras,” or schools that have historically focused their curricula on Quranic teachings. Together, we are working to make education available for all young learners and bridge gaps between religious and formal education.

FHI 360 asked three representatives from Senegal’s Ministry of Education to share their thoughts on overcoming barriers to education in the country’s southern regions of Kédougou, Kolda, Sedhiou, and Ziguinchor.

Alioune Touré is the secretary-general of the Inspection Academy of Kolda, Fatou Cissé Diédhiou is the secretary-general of the Inspection Academy of Ziguinchor and Dethiokh Samba is the inspector of education and training for the Vélingara district.

Here’s what they had to say.

What would you say are some of the challenges young learners in Senegal face within the education system?

Alioune Touré, secretary-general of inspection academy

Alioune Touré, secretary-general of inspection academy. Photo credit: Nianthio Pro for FHI 360

Touré: To provide background, in the Kolda region, as well as the rest of the country, we have several levels of school, from preschool to secondary schools and even vocational training. We also have informal community schools, along with “daaras,” which have historically focused their curricula on Quranic teachings. However, most daaras exclude school subjects from the formal education system, which results in these students missing out on critical competencies in the long run.

Additionally, we’re noticing high levels of attendance of girls at the primary level, which is great, but unfortunately, it is different at the secondary level. Girls have access to school but face many challenges staying in school, including poverty, safety risks and a lack of follow-up from schools. Girls may also face more difficulty walking long distances to reach their secondary school as compared to boys. And even when girls do make it to school, the learning environments and teaching styles do not effectively respond to their needs.

Diédhiou: The transition from primary school to secondary school is a weak link in the education system. We also have many students that quit school because the system is unable to address their unique circumstances. We want to strengthen this transition and ensure that we are creating inclusive and safe learning environments for all students to continue their studies.

At the same time, there is a critical need for more remedial education, or remediation. This is particularly important for students from low-resource settings, since remedial education involves providing additional assistance and giving them the opportunity to catch up to their grade level.

You have been working with FHI 360 and others in Senegal since 2018. What progress have you seen so far? What has made the partnership so successful?

Dethiokh Samba, inspector of education and training. Photo credit: Nianthio Pro for FHI 360

Dethiokh Samba, inspector of education and training. Photo credit: Nianthio Pro for FHI 360

Samba: We are closely working with our daaras, with the goal of integrating their learners into the formal education system at the end of the partnership. More specifically, we have been working in Medina Gounass, a village that was established by a religious man who had a strict vision about education. Currently, the village has no formal schools. The greater commune of Medina Gounass, which is composed of many other villages, has about 160 daaras and only seven elementary schools. Through the partnership, we have been able to work with 29 of these daaras, enabling students from these schools to integrate into our formal schools and pursue their studies.

We did this by taking on a different approach to our training. Traditionally, the “marabout” (religious guide) has trained his teachers in religious education, which is then taught to the children. Through the project, we were able to train some of the daaras’ teachers, along with teachers we selected from the community, to expand the daaras’ curricula to include math and French.

What has really touched me is the fact that the marabout agreed to integrate subjects like French and math in the daaras. Being able to collaborate with the marabout, the commune of Medina Gounass, and the daaras has been a remarkable success!

Touré: An approach can succeed in one community and fail in another; each community requires an individualized strategy. Our partnership has carried out the Passerelles project by adapting solutions to contexts and creating a platform where everyone is able to work in harmony.

A major success would have to be our remediation training. There are over 100 schools that have benefited from remediation and more than 200 teachers who have been trained on remedial education. Trained teachers are now able to determine if a student requires remediation after an exam and view it as a learning opportunity with their student. We step back to take a better jump.

We have also noticed major improvements at the transitory phase between the fifth and sixth grades. Having more female teachers and a gender office at the regional- and district-level inspection academies are paying off, too. Girls are the best students in many of our classes!

These all seem like positive steps. What does the future look like for this partnership and the education system in Senegal?

Fatou Cissé Diédhiou, secretary-general of inspection academy

Fatou Cissé Diédhiou, secretary-general of inspection academy. Photo credit: Nianthio Pro for FHI 360

Diédhiou: Working on this project, I have witnessed how effective these training sessions have been for teachers. Partnering with the schools has allowed us to learn more about the schools’ specific needs and how classrooms are managed. An area that we’re continuing to explore is social emotional learning and training more teachers on this topic. The social emotional learning training that we provide increases teachers’ awareness of the various challenges students may encounter and equips them with strategies on how they might address those challenges.

We have a critical need to support all types of students, including those living with disabilities, so we are exploring ways to make this critical training accessible to more teachers and even incorporate it as part of their initial training. These steps will allow us to continue our goal of keeping students in school and providing them with a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.

1USAID. Senegal country development cooperation strategy (CDCS) [Internet]. 2020. Available from: