Peace Corps Volunteer Elida Lynch, currently serving in Sokone, Senegal, and helping WGEP's program there, blogs about recent changes to the Senegalese education system.
Beginning with the 2010/2011 school year, the Ministry of Education in Senegal has eliminated the exclusive national entrance exam for the grade 6iéme, which will allow more grammar school students to continue their secondary school education! In past years, students were required to pass three rigorous exams at different points in their academic career in order to be allowed to remain in school. The first exam, the entrance exam for 6iéme, took place after the sixth year of school and was required for continuing to the secondary level. The second, the BEFEM, is required for entrance to high school, and the third--the Baccalaureate--is taken at the end of high school. If a student fails a test he/she is allowed to repeat the year and the exam once. After failing for a second time, the child is automatically excluded from school for the rest of their school-age years. This policy has prevented many children from continuing their education past the elementary level, particularly impacting children from poor rural communities who have fewer resources and less access to the quality education and academic tutoring needed to pass the exclusive examinations. The État Général de l’Éducation of Senegal has recognized that this policy conflicts with the legally recognized right and obligation of children to attend school for at least 10 years. Therefore, the government has abolished the entrance exam for secondary school because it automatically limited anyone who didn’t pass to only six years of schooling. The government has long recognized that the entrance exam for 6iéme prevented children from attending school but could not afford the costs associated with maintaining all children in school through middle school. Starting this school year, the government will implement changes to honor its obligation to provide schooling for every child. Because this will increase the number of students in middle school, the government has pledged to construct new middle schools. In the past secondary schools were located only in certain towns and students who lived in villages outside of walking distance to the town were forced to find lodging in the town if they wished to continue their education. The new schools will be located so as to enable children living in villages to attend school without leaving home. These changes have been made possible through the partnership of local communities, the international community and the Senegalese government. Local communities have donated land for the new schools, and the international community and NGOs are funding the construction and equipping of new schools. The government will then provide teachers and staff for the newly built schools. With the help of NGOs and international aid, the government is able to support more schools and educate more children. Other future changes planned for the Senegalese education system include the provision of school supplies to each student by the government, school uniforms, the replacement of the first year of secondary school with a preparatory year to help students transition between elementary and secondary school, and an increase in the number of high schools and universities throughout the country. All of these changes are projected to increase access to education, as well as the quality of education throughout the country and were possible only through the engagement of NGOs and the international community.
With more children given the opportunity to access secondary education, programs such as WGEP's Sisters-to-School can make a real difference in helping families overcome the financial, cultural and academic barriers that can keep their children from taking full advantage of these opportunities.
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