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There are many positive factors that can contribute to a bright future for education in Senegal: a stable government, strong religious traditions and social ethical teachings, a leadership role in Africa, and a strong value attached to education on the part of the leadership.

However, there is a minority of the elite that still view education as a highly selective system to reinforce the existing economic and social structures. This is the group that is most resistant to any moves away from a French-centered education. Also, a high turnover of ministers in the Department of Education creates instability, which contributes to delays in implementing positive change.

Seventy-two percent of women are still illiterate. Statistics show that polygamy decreases with the level of education of the woman. In 1993 some 50 percent of women without formal education were in polygynous unions. In contrast, 32 percent of women with primary education were in such unions and 28 percent of women with a secondary education (Pison and others 1995).

Gross inequities still exist based upon geographical location, especially urban vs. rural and coastal vs. interior locations. There are no upper secondary schools at all nor any teacher training institutes in rural areas. Poverty is an enormous hurdle. To put things in perspective, this is a country with 1.3 telephones per 100 inhabitants, 5 newspapers per 1,000 inhabitants, and 41 television sets per 1,000 inhabitants.

There is one particularly serious issue on the horizon, which must be addressed before Senegal can reverse the backward slip in educational attainments for its people of lower socioeconomic levels. That obstacle is international debt contracted in an earlier era. HIPC (the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative) is attempting to relieve this situation. However, Oxfam International's research demonstrates that unsustainable debt will remain a formidable obstacle to poverty reduction and hence to educational development.

Debt servicing is estimated to amount to as much as 35 percent of total revenues in Senegal. Debt repayment is expected to exceed the country's combined health and education budgets. Structural readjusting has already resulted in substantial reductions of funds to education. The new government's commitment to ambitious education reforms and to the Quality Education for All programs, which aims to achieve universal primary school enrollment by 2008, will seriously be undermined if the world community cannot solve this problem for Senegal, as for most African countries in a similar bind.

HIV/AIDS is another factor destined to affect the development of and support for education. Although, no doubt due in part to the Islamic value system and geography, the crisis has affected Senegal to a lesser degree than many other African countries. In 1999 some 79,000 cases of HIV/AIDS infection were reported in Senegal. The Ministry of Education has mandated the integration of HIV/AIDS education into natural science courses during the last two years of secondary school, but so far curriculum design has lagged behind.

In summary, Senegal has far to go to achieve the educational goals of its constitution and the changes called for in its various bold reform plans. On the positive side are such factors as a stable government and social structure, a democratic political system, a tradition that values education, a consultative system for educational change, and a history of positive cooperation with nongovernmental organizations of various kinds, both foreign and domestic. Obstacles to be overcome include severe gender inequities in all areas of social, cultural, religious, and economic life; the economic effects of debt servicing; a population that does not show a high level of confidence in the possibilities of education to solve their life's problems; and a highly centralized and costly bureaucratic administrative structure for educational decision making.


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Pison, Gilles, and others. Population Dynamics of Senegal. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995.

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—Linda Yoder

Additional topics

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