Senegal struggles to overcome illiteracy

Senegal struggles to overcome illiteracy

Senegal, like many countries in West Africa, has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. And the problem is exacerbated by the ‘ills’ that infect Senegal education – the ills which successive governments, from Senghor to Diouf, via Wade and now Sall, seem unable to cure  despite identifying them.

Senegal’s education ‘ills’ include demotivated teachers (due to late payment of salaries and poor working conditions), too many kids for too few classrooms, overcrowding, unqualified teachers and lack of on-the-job training, strikes, and parents’ preference to send their kids to religious schools rather than Western schools, among others.

UNICEF says Senegal adult literacy is 50%, but other independent organisations put the number at less than 50%. Female illiteracy is the worst as one adult woman out of six lacks basic reading and writing skills.  Year after year, the government struggles to improve illiteracy rates, prompting the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) to list Senegal among the 11 countries whose adult literacy rates were below 50% in 2010.

The other countries (10) are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone.

UNICEF Senegal spokesperson Macaty Fall tells Moon of the South:“They are three major causes of illiteracy in Senegal. First, French school is not accepted by some communities because on one hand they want to learn by their own language, and on the other hand ‘literacy programmes’ are not very effective with functional competencies, meaning many learners become “illiterate” again after these programmes.”

The second raison, Fall said, is the fact that some of the NGOs use the same learners in the same class during three to five years with the same curriculum, in order to gain ‘allowances’ or financial support from the ministry of education. He, however, failed to name any of these NGOs.

He adds: “The third and last cause is the level of budget allocation to this sub-sector of illiteracy: just 0.6% of total budget of education sector, that is to say less than 1%. In addition, no mechanism is put in place to monitor and assess the level of learners in this sub sector.”

Fall says UNICEF has in the past five years lent support to the curriculum of Koranic schools and parenting training through the school steering committee. “Each year we support the ‘Literacy Advocacy Campaign’ during the national week of Literacy.”

In its report published in September 2012, UIS says the global adult literacy rate was 84.1% in 2010. While the number of illiterate persons fell over the past decade, UIS says 775 million adults globally – 64% of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills.

*PIC: FATUMA CAMARA. A secondary school in the capital city Dakar.  Senegal has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world

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