The Government of Senegal recognizes the important link between education and development and is committed to improving education. It is making a concerted effort to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #2 of universal primary education by 2015. While school enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa remains the lowest of all the world’s regions, it is increasing. According to the World Bank, primary school net enrollment in Senegal is now about seventy-six percent, with enrollment for girls slightly higher than that of boys. Furthermore, the government has a stated policy of equal access for boys and girls to education.
Despite reforms to improve education, Senegalese children still face significant challenges in terms of educational quality and access. The government has built many primary schools but has built fewer schools for higher levels of education. This translates into increased costs to students who must leave their homes to continue their education, costs that come in addition to sometimes prohibitively high school fees, transport, and books. In terms of quality, the curriculum is often more theoretical and less practical, neither relevant to the needs of the private sector seeking to hire workers nor to the needs of the students who leave school without fundamental life skills. Moreover, in an effort to meet the higher enrollment needs, the government has had to hire some teachers with lower qualifications. Makeshift classrooms with inadequate facilities also pose obstacles.
Girls face additional challenges of obtaining an education and their participation in education decreases in higher grades. The four years of middle school are particularly precarious. They must also often contend with pregnancy, early marriage, increased household responsibilities, and family pressure to justify continued education. While USAID’s $19 million education program in Senegal does not focus exclusively on girls’ education, it is a priority. Most agree that educated girls are less likely to marry early (fifteen year old brides are still common in Senegal) and are more likely to get better jobs and have better healthcare for themselves and their families—all important factors contributing to a country’s development and the reduction of poverty.
To help the Government of Senegal meet the need of keeping girls in school, USAID’s education program in 2011 focused on building middle schools. With primary school attendance up, the number of neighborhood middle schools was insufficient. The problem of distant middle schools was particularly acute for girls, as parents are reluctant to allow girls to go far to attend school. The USAID project built 104 junior high schools to make sure that girls in target areas were no further than five kilometers from a junior high school. Additional schools meant many more girls could continue their education beyond primary school. Another simple but effective innovation was installing separate latrines for girls and boys since many of the existing schools that had been built lacked latrines. In addition to bricks and mortar, the strategy also addressed the need for more female role models for girls. The project provided incentives to hire and retain more female teachers. Lastly, partnering with the local phone company, USAID has awarded more than 2,800 scholarships to girls from disadvantaged families. All of these interventions were crucial to get the parents’ and community support for the education of girls. Without such support the gains made by increasing the enrollment of girls in primary school would be lost as they would not stay in school. USAID remains committed to assist the Government of Senegal with programs that expand educational opportunities, especially for girls, which in turn benefit all Senegalese people.