Girls’ Education is important! We need to research to inform government policies

May 28, 2020

By Ndéye Awa Fall

Growing up as a girl in an urban set-up in Dakar, Senegal, I was fortunate to have access to education. As a daughter of two teaching professionals, my brother and I constantly heard about the importance of education. From my mother revising our lessons at home, to my father providing the support we needed; my situation differed greatly from many young girls in poor settlements and rural areas. Whilst my peers with similar backgrounds pursued their education to the university level, I also knew of many others who did not have the same fate. 

In Senegal, 1,264,823 boys and 1,215,361 girls get to go to elementary school where gross enrollment rates (GER) and completion rates are significant compared to that of middle and secondary school. For example, girl’s GER declined from 92.6% at elementary school to 53.3% and 34.6% at middle and secondary school respectively (DPRE, 2019). National GER hides huge regional and intra-regional disparities. Indeed, some regions such as Diourbel or Kaffrine registered less than 20% even in middle and secondary school while the capital city GER is above 40% at all levels. These numbers easily show the situation of girl’s education despite government efforts to encourage it. This can be explained by multiple factors. 

Firstly, the distance from home to school in Senegal’s rural areas discourages girls from attending as they have to travel several kilometers. That aside, the issue of affordability comes into play as parents cannot afford the school fees. In cases such as these, older girls tend to abandon their educational pursuits in a bid to add additional income to their households through menial jobs such as domestic work in urban cities. This in turn leads to an increase in the number of girls dropping out of school before university. The dropout rate for girls remains high at all levels compared to that of boys. The dropout rate for girls in elementary school (CM2) represents 24.5%, 20,4% in middle school and 21.3% in secondary schools (Tle) (DPRE, 2019). 

Another factor that comes into play are adolescent pregnancies that lead to dropout cases. At the national level, 78% of unplanned teen pregnancies were accounted for in girls aged 12 to 18 years. In Sedhiou, the most affected region, nearly 15% of adolescents aged between 12 and 19 years were pregnant (GEEP, 2019). Furthermore, 51.6% of these pregnancies involve girls who are not married, compared to 48.6% married girls. 

These issues highlighted illustrate the importance of the Improving Girls Education (IGE) project, especially within the Senegalese context. Here we see cultural, religious and contextual issues at play that act as barriers to girls’ education. With the help of this project, we have developed a better understanding of the challenges faced in improving girls’ education and adolescents’ sexual reproductive health. Through this, we will be able to adapt and shape strategies needed to improve the wellbeing of Senegalese girls. 

Key to our successful project is our collaboration with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). For over 20 years, FAWE have been working with their network across Senegal to implement programs that promote girls’ education. A notable example is the “Club of excellence” program implemented in 57 schools around the country. The members of these clubs are selected based on their performance in primary school and their disadvantaged social situation. To improve their academic performance, FAWE fellows received a stipend, textbooks, learning materials and school fees support up to secondary school and university.

Through this project, APHRC is working towards a key education policy of the Senegalese government, to promote girls’ education and parity. It is our hope that we will generate the necessary evidence needed for policymakers to implement strategies that will not only encourage, but retain girls in school till the tertiary level. 

Having benefited from my parents’ support, I dream of a Senegal where all parents are aware of the importance of educating girls because of the wider impacts across society. An educated girl will be a conscious woman who can aspire to a job. That woman will be keen to put her children in schools and, most of all, she will not accept to be party to an early marriage where her girls are concerned. Simply put, when you educate a girl, you address job creation, teenage pregnancies and early marriages, all for the benefit of the society.