Senegal’s Major Problem With Forced Child Begging

While Senegal has attempted to address some of its huge number of impoverished families with healthcare funding, many of its children are still suffering in school. Human Rights Watch reported on March 19 that many children in Senegalese Quranic boarding school sare living in unsafe conditions and are exploited by their teachers, who force the children to beg and often beat them severely when they do not return a set quota of money. “For at least 50,000 children in Senegal, economic exploitation is masquerading as religious education, as children are forced to beg for long hours to benefit the teacher, and are subjected to severe physical abuse for failing to meet his quota,” said Matt Wells, author of the report.

GPE Head visits Senegal

The government has drafted new legislation to address the problem, but critics say that more oversight is still required; there remain only two full-time inspectors for Quranic schools, of which there are thousands throughout the country. “If we’re going to inspect or even oversee inspections across Senegal, we need more personnel, we need more equipment,” said an official in the inspectorate.

The report was issued a year President Macky Sall pledged to look at the problem following a fire in one of the school that killed eight boys. The legislation proposed would gradually increase regulation and oversight for the schools. “Senegal has long had good laws on the books to address forced child begging, but government will to enforce them has been consistently lacking,” said Wells. “President Sall’s government has many allies in waiting among religious authorities and the broader population. He should swiftly seize the opportunity to put an end to the system of exploitation that threatens to leave thousands of kids with an education only in how to survive on the streets,” Wells added.

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Liberian Teachers Demand Pack Pay from Education Ministry

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, public school teachers gathered at the Ministry of Education in the Liberian city of Sinkor to demand back pay from the government. The teachers allege that they have not been paid since their appointment in August of 2012 and are owed more than LD$300,000 (about $3,500) each. Rancy Kenneh, a spokesperson for the teachers, said that they were initially recruited and trained by the Ministry of Education at facilities across the country. “Upon our graduation from these institutions, we were in August 2012 sent to work at various government schools, especially those in rural areas, as principals and teachers; but the government has failed to pay us for the services we rendered and still rendering,” he added. Officials from the ministry did not comment on the situation.

Faces – Together Liberia – Bruce Strong

The Liberian government has had serious problems in the education sector in the last year. In December 2013, the University of Liberia suspended all classes after students began protesting and pressuring provost Madam Wade Elliot Brownell to resign. Two years ago, teachers in Monrovia went on strike demanding higher pay. Teachers went on strike again in 2013. Without a stable economic climate, the country has been unable to keep workers happy and paid. It is unlikely that this will be the last incident in this continuing trend in Liberia.

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Kenyan School Pilots Mobile Technology in the Classroom

NtugiGroup 91The newly developed Power of M-Learning Project aims to improve academic performance in Kenyan primary schools by using 3G enabled tablets to deliver the newly digitized Kenyan curriculum. The project is currently being piloted by 250 students and 35 teachers in Nairobi’s Embakasi Garrison Primary School.

The pilot program was developed collaboratively to address the specific challenges facing Kenyan schools. Students and teachers are using solar powered tablets, making the program sustainable for many schools with limited or no access to electricity. 3G wireless technology provides access to the eLimu platform, which was developed by two Kenyan women to specifically support youth in Kenya. The eLimu application contains content from all 6 Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) subject areas and uses games, songs, 3D animations, and quizzes to encourage student engagement.

The Power of M-Learning Project aims to address the challenge of teacher shortages in the area, where the teacher to student ratio has grown to 1:56. The tablets will make learning more personalized and will allow for more individual feedback for students.

Limited access to resources has traditionally made learning difficult in Kenya.  Typically, three pupils share a Kiswahili, English, and Mathematics textbook. The project aims to create a sustainable solution by using digital resources.  Attendance has also traditionally been a problem. In many districts, 4 out of 10 students miss school daily. The new  digital platform for learning is designed to increase student engagement and improve attendance rates.

The project was developed in partnership with Bboxx Kenya, eLimu, iHub Research, Safaricom, and Motorolla in collaboration with the Kenya Ministry of Education. It is expected to be replicated in other public schools to complement the controversial laptop program being instituted by the government.

Nivi Mukherjee, co-founder of eLimu, explained the rationale behind their approach. “When you’re showing children examples that they can’t easily relate to, part of their brain is distracted. So when we’re talking about fractions, we don’t use a pizza as an example, we use a chapatti. We also follow the national curriculum, so this content is specifically geared towards Kenyan youth.”

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Foreign Aid To Education in Sub-Saharan Africa Slows

The recent UNESCO report, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, released late last month, finds a disturbing drop in foreign aid made to education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the report, “In sub-Saharan Africa, home to over half the world’s out-of-school population, aid to basic education declined by 7 per cent in 2011.” This decline represents a cut of more than $134 million that could have provided a place in school for more than a million students.

Overall education aid peaked in 2010, and fell by 7 per cent to $5.8 billion in 2011. Aid to low-income countries fell by $1.86 billion, to $16 per child. Nine major international donors reduced aid to education in favor of creating strong democratic institutions through foreign aid.

Water for cooking, Niger floods, Sept 2012

Because of the cuts, most sub-Saharan African countries will not be able to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal that all children should have a primary education by 2015. The problem is especially intense in sub-Saharan Africa, a region ranking lowest in primary education in the world. Niger, for instance, with a primary school enrollment of only 8 per cent, is not expected to be able to meet that goal until 2090 for boys in rural areas, and 2120 for girls in rural areas. “Today, there are 250 million children around the world who aren’t learning the basics. This is primarily the responsibility of national governments, but donors need to step up to the mark in supporting states that are committed to improving their education systems,” said Pauline Rose, director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

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Japan Assists Sudan with School Construction

Amid the pervasive violence within and just across Sudan’s borders and the devastation already caused to its infrastructure thanks to a decade long conflict in Darfur, Japan has offered $441,133 to help build elementary schools in the White Nile and Dassala states in Sudan. The project will fund nine schools, seven in the Al-Gitaina area in the White Nile state, and two in the al-Katmiya region of Kassala. Combined, the project will serve more than 1,400 students, and includes plans to construct eight classrooms and four office buildings. “Japan’s Embassy places great importance on supporting primary education in Sudan and the official launch of two projects today is clear indication of this approach,” said Japanese ambassador to Sudan Ryoichi Horie.

School children

New schools are needed to address Sudan’s drastically underequipped educational infrastructure. Among the world’s poorest and least literate countries, there are nearly six million school dropouts in Sudan. Still, projects like these are having some impact. UNICEF announced earlier this month a project to train 2000 teachers and 4,500 school headmasters, expanding education to more than 100,000 students in Darfur. This announcement by Japan coincides with another project announced by Plan Sudan to train an additional 80 teachers in Kassala.

“This is not our first cooperation with the Japanese Embassy in a project to promote basic education the rural areas and communities and [we] would like to highly commend Japan’s support in this,” said Nidaa Civil Society Organization Director Medani Abbas Medani. “So that we can move from under-development to sustainable development… we stress that this will need the promotion of education and basic education in particular,” added Medani. Japan is helping Sudan take small steps toward more open, sustainable education, but as conflicts in Darfur and South Sudan continue to put a strain on the country’s resources, people, and infrastructure, even bigger steps are needed.

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Northern States in Nigeria Undertake Education Reform

In March, governors of the 19 Northern States of Nigeria met to eliminate secondary school fees in an effort to boost student enrollment. Governor of the Niger state and chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, Babangida Aliyu called education the bedrock of any development announced two further reforms: a “Grade 2 Teachers Training Programme” to improve teacher qualification and training in the region, and a resolution to harmonize fees among tertiary institutions. Aliyu also stated that a conference dedicated to addressing the region’s substandard educational performance would be held soon.

Dendo Secondary School

Northern Nigeria has fared worse than in other areas of the country as schools have felt the impact of Islamist attacks throughout the region. Those attacks have also deeply affected the local economy. Educating more students at the secondary and tertiary levels may represent steps toward economic recovery. Recent studies have shown that it is actually cheaper to educate children than keep them out of school. In the case of Nigeria, where 10 million children do not attend school, when those children enter the labor force in 10 years the country is expected to lose a full percent loss of GDP—around $3 billion. The northern states can assuage this loss by better preparing more students, steps they are taking with these resolutions.

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Uganda Makes Great Strides in Addressing Gender Gap in Education

UNESCO’s recently released Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring report lists encouraging statistics regarding gender parity in Uganda’s educational system. The report states that Uganda improved by 95 per cent over the last decade. Statistics from the Education Ministry show that net enrollment for girls increased from 82.3 per cent in 2000 to 97.2 per cent today. Among boys the same figure rose from 88.8 per cent in 2000 to a current rate of 96.3 per cent.

Scout Leader of Uganda Martyrs School planting tree at the school, Mbarara, Uganda 2011

This is a step forward for Uganda, which ranks among the lowest nations in the United Nations Development Programe human development rankings. And though getting students into class is a starting point, some are stressing that quality is more important than quantity. “If we are seeing both sexes at par, how many of those can read and write?” asked MP Rosemary Sseninde. “I think we must appreciate that we are making strides. We are determined to address all the challenges, like improving facilities, access to scholastic materials and ensuring that classrooms are not overcrowded,” said Jessica Alupo, Uganda’s Education Minister.

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Free Education Program in Somalia Halted Amid Teacher Strikes

Hawa Abdi Centre for Internally Displaced SomalisThis past September, Somalia launched its Go 2 School Initiative, designed to provide a free education to  one million children in Somalia, where only four out of every ten children currently attend school and, of those attending, only 36% are girls.

The program was abruptly halted when teachers went on strike in January after not being paid, leaving children without schools once again. The teachers were promised a salary of $200 a month but had only received $300 since the program first launched in September, resulting in a strike impacting 50,000 primary school children at the 12 new schools established through the campaign.

This is not the first time the new program has faced challenges. The initiative, which aimed to enroll one million children in its first year, got off to a slow start after a lackluster marketing campaign. It also faced criticism from teachers after the government failed to deliver a national curriculum to be used as a basis for instruction. In addition, parents and teachers voiced safety concerns after the country’s al-Qaida militant group warned that the schools were legitimate targets for attack.

Despite the challenges, many agreed that the program was providing hope for the many Somali families that could not afford private school tuition. In June of 2013, the first national education conference was held in Mogadishu where the Somali prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, promised that the government would give education the same priority as defense, asserting that  it was the constitutional right of each child to receive education free of charge.

The Go 2 School program was launched in September with much excitement at public ceremonies in Mogadishu, Garowe and Hargeisa. UNICEF continues to urge funders to support the Go 2 School campaign, while Maryan Qasim, former Minister for Human Services and Public Services in Somalia, urged teachers to have patience with the government and commence their teaching duties.

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EU and UNICEF Begin Health and Education Programs in Darfur

On Monday, Feb. 3, the EU and UNICEF began the implementation of two projects in the Darfur region of Sudan, aimed at improving health and access to education. The health project funds 28 midwifery trainers, 300 technical midwives, 120 nurses and 16 health specialists; the project for education will fund 2,000 teachers, 80 training teachers, and 450 school headmasters—all of which will expand access to education for more than 100,000 students, according to a press release. The projects cost a total of 3 million Euros, funded entirely by the EU.

Darfur crisis A UNICEF representative in Sudan, Geer Cappelaere, said “UNICEF is very happy that the EU is deepening its engagement for the children of Darfur through this grant. Growing up healthy and educated is the right of every boy and girl in Darfur, and we will do our level best at UNICEF to ensure a great return on this critical investment in basic education and primary health care in Darfur.”

The ongoing conflict in Darfur has killed over 250,000 people since its beginning in 2003, and continuing violence displaced an estimated 400,000 in 2013 alone. The international community has tried to maintain the availability of education for students displaced by the violence, but these UNICEF programs demonstrate the need for continued action in the region as the conflict continues. 

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UNICEF Sets up Temporary Classrooms for 20,000 Displaced Students in Central African Republic Capital

On Feb. 4, UNICEF moved to open more than 100 temporary classrooms in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui for 20,000 children displaced by the country’s ongoing conflict. Over 40 of the temporary classrooms are already operating, and UNICEF has trained more than 160 teachers in early childhood development to work in the temporary spaces. All schools in the capital have been closed since December, 2013.

Main street, Paoua, north west Central African Republic (CAR)
The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, estimated that as of mid-2013, there were over 400,000 people are internally within the CAR. That number has increased during a recent spate of violence centered in the capital. One report estimates that 300,000 people were displaced from Bangui in December 2013 alone. UNICEF reports that of 176 schools inspected across the country in the last year, 114 have been looted. “I want the children in my class to forget the bad things they have seen. I want to make sure that they don’t turn to violence and retribution, but learn honestly and gentleness,” said Antoinette, a teacher at UNICEF training.

“Children have lost several months of schooling since the crisis started,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in the CAR Judith Léveillée. “If the displaced children cannot go back to schools, classrooms should come to them,” she added.

This UNICEF program in CAR closely resembles another UN program in similarly war-torn South Sudan, where students were able to sit exams in refugee camps. Though the temporary camps in CAR are not designed to be a permanent solution, given the recent escalation in the conflict, there is no telling how long students might remain in these temporary spaces.

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