Magazine article New African

Basic Education: Then and Now

Magazine article New African

Basic Education: Then and Now

Article excerpt

Fatou Lamin Faye is one of the most empowered and empowering women in The Gambia as Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, a position she has held for ten years. Having held the position for that long, she knows best why the importance of education cannot be overemphasised. She shares her reflections on how the basic education system has evolved under President Jammeh.

ANYBODY WHO WILL care to take a look at our statistics, will easily be educated on how far we have come in the education system in this country in the past 20 years. The President has been able to take education to the doorsteps, literally that is, of every child in The Gambia.

Before 1994, we had only around 250 lower basic schools. Today we have 861 schools. You look at the upper basic schools, before 1994 there were only 22, today there are 325. In terms of senior secondary school, a lot of youths were denied high school education, not only due to distance. We also had just 12 secondary schools in the whole of the country. Today we have 135 and counting.

These numbers speak for themselves and in volumes about the achievements of President Jammeh's administration in the area of education since he came to power on 22 July 1994, and it is of course worth celebrating.

And it is not only access to education that we should be celebrating, it's not only about taking the schools to the doorsteps of the kids that we should be celebrating, it is also about affordability.

Gambian families are now able to send their children to school. That is important, and that is exactly what the government has done in the past 20 years. It has made sure that scholarships are available and provided to families so that they are able to send their children to school, especially girls.

One of the major things that the President did therefore was to create a Girls Education Trust, under the Ministry of Education, funded by his own Foundation, the government, as well as donations from well-meaning Gambians and other philanthropists.

Since 2003, a total of 154,000 scholarships have been given under this scholarship programme, which is now called the Gender Education Unit, as it also now caters for boys. The government realised that to continue focusing on girls only risked rolling back the gains we had made in terms of parity so we decided to open it up to cater for the boys as well.

I am proud to say therefore, that amongst African countries, The Gambia is one of those few that is on track to attain the MDG 2, which calls for achieving universal education for all by 2015. We have been so successful with this that a lot of other countries have been coming to The Gambia to learn about our success and how we are doing it.

And apart from creating that opportunity of access, before 1994 we used to see our children carrying their chairs from home on their heads to go and sit on in school. That no longer happens. Now we have the facilities, we have furniture and other necessary equipment in all the schools.

Last academic year, we abolished school fees in the primary schools. We are going to do it for the next cycle when we gear up for the upper basic schools and secondary schools. We want every Gambian child to be able to access education up to university.

Under the President's Empowerment of Girls Through Education Project (PEGEP), President Jammeh makes sure that not only do girls enrol in school, but that they stay until they complete grade 12. One of the conditions to access the scholarship is for the parents to promise the girls don't leave school for other activities, until they have completed grade 12. …

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