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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The constitution calls for a free, compulsory, and universal education for children between the ages of six and fourteen. It also provides for a Minister of National Education, a Minister of Technical Education and Training (responsible for vocational and technical education), a Minister of Popular Education (responsible for adult literacy), and a Minister of Youth and Sports. All of these ministries are involved in the complexities of national planning for education. However, the bias is toward the formal school system. For example, less than one half of one percent of the Ministry of Education's budget goes toward improving literacy among the adult population (Cain and Schuman 1994).

In the first years of independence, it became clear that the broad vision of universal education as called for by the constitution would not be immediately obtainable because of a dire shortage of qualified teachers and a restricted number of classrooms. Furthermore, the question of absorbing that number of educated people into the occupational structure became a concern. Serious conflict about the educational policies of the government ensued, with a series of strikes by primary and secondary students, teachers, and teachers' unions.

In 1969 a reform began that involved a change in short-term goals. The goal became one of enabling 50 percent of all children to gain access to primary education by the year 2000. To avoid unemployment among graduates, expansion was deliberately slowed.

In 1971, a National Education (Basic Aims) act was adopted by the National Assembly which defined Senegalese national education as "a specifically African education, rooted in but rising above and transcending African realities in such a way as to transform them and bring about the full flowering of African cultural values..." (M'Bengue 1973). It charged the educational system with the use of national languages and modern educational techniques.

However, to this time Senegal lacks a consensus on what it means to "Senegalize" the educational system (Rideout and Babayoko 1994). For the educated elite, the issue is how to preserve the prestigious francophone system; for the less elite, it means creating a system, materials, and curriculum that reflect African languages and reality.

Lack of resources coupled with population growth and a rapidly declining average age (half the population is under age sixteen) more than doubled the school-age population in three decades, which classroom construction, materials development, and teacher education could not begin to keep pace with. Desperation, dismay, and anger resulted from students and recent graduates who have become cynical about their prospects for finding appropriate jobs.

These realities forced the government of Senegal in the 1980s to begin examining reform schemes and alternative methods of education. President Diouf gave in to repeated calls to convene what was to be called the Etats Généraux de l'Education (EG). That designation was chosen because of its traditional links to democracy and reform in France and because it showed the intention to represent diverse elements of the body politic. The EG produced an impressive degree of consensus in its recommendations: universal primary school enrollment, Islamic education and instruction in national languages within the formal school system, greater interaction between school and community, and greater recognition of teachers as active development agents who should be provided with adequate facilities.

Curriculum decisions are made at the national level by the Ministry of Education in consultation with interested parties. Materials are developed by the National Institute for Research and Actions for the Development of Education (INEADE), sent to the local levels for consultation, and then officially adopted. The process shows a highly centralized decision-making structure but a lack of follow-up support to implement changes.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSenegal - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education