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Official Country Name: Republic of Djibouti
Region: Africa
Population: 451,442
Language(s): French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
Literacy Rate: 46.2%
Academic Year: September-June
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 8.1%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 8,982
Libraries: 892
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 328,875
  Secondary: 444,682
  Higher: 174,975
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 121%
  Higher: 48%
Teachers: Primary: 33,100
  Secondary: 50,100
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 10:1
  Secondary: 9:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 122%
  Higher: 53%

The Republic of Djibouti, a country of about 500,000 people, is situated on the northeastern coast of Africa, bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the west, and Eritrea in the north. Until 1967 it was called French Somaliland by France, the colonial power that owned this small piece of land since the late 1800s when the European nations divided up the map of Africa between them. An extremely poor, hot, desert territory, its main significance lies in its strategic location on the western shore of the Gulf of Aden at the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, linking the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. After 1967 the territory was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and Issas, after the Ethiopian Afars and the Somali Issas, the two largely nomadic ethnic groups that make up the majority of the population. On June 27, 1977, the country gained independence from France and became the nation of Djibouti. The capital is also called Djibouti.

In 2001, the country's economy was based almost entirely on the port and on the railroad that links it with Addis Ababa in neighboring Ethiopia, making it a major source of Ethiopian trade. The official languages of Djibouti are Arabic and French; most of the people speak Afar or Somali though. Radio and television stations broadcast in French, Arabic, Somali, and Afar. Because of a defense agreement with the former colonial power, Djibouti hosts more than 3,000 French military personnel, including the Foreign Legion.

Traditionally, education in Djibouti, a largely Islamic country and the first in Africa to adopt this religion, is the domain of the Koranic schools where tuition is in Arabic. Koranic, community-based preschools are especially abundant; here children learn the Holy Koran, reading, writing, religious instruction, Islam, and how to perform prayers. These preschools, usually run by a sheikh and staffed by preschool teachers characterized by good memory, honesty, modesty and total dedication to their mission, do not necessarily emphasize skill-oriented activities. Private preschools serve less than 500 children, or 0.3 percent of the population (0 to 6 years of age). Tuition fees of about $1,000 a year are out of the reach of any but the most affluent parents.

Western education first arrived in Djibouti when Roman Catholic missionaries opened a school in 1884.

After World War II, state schools became increasingly popular. In 1964 Koranic instruction became part of the curriculum even in state schools and, by the end of the 1970s, enrollment in primary schools rose from approximately 1,100 pupils shortly after World War II to 13,740. Primary school attendance is compulsory and free; however, Djibouti struggles, as do many other African countries, with impossible demands made by the international banking community that the foreign debt be serviced even if this means the disintegration of health and education services and the consequent destruction of the futures of millions of children. Thus, the government does not monitor compliance with compulsory school attendance policy, and many of the schools are in poor condition and need upgrading. Most secondary schools are in the larger centers and the number of classrooms for secondary students is inadequate. Approximately 20 percent of children who start secondary school complete their education. Less than 50 percent of the population can read and write. Approximately 32 percent of girls are literate, as compared with 60 percent of boys; 62 percent of girls attend primary school compared with 73 percent of boys; and 23 percent of girls attend secondary school compared with 33 percent of boys. Overall, girls make up 36 percent of all secondary students. In 1998 the government committed itself to increasing the number of female students in the educational system to 50 percent. Significant progress has been made toward this goal in the primary grades.

At the end of 1999, the Ministry of Education held a national week-long symposium on education policy. Representatives of the education profession, parents, students, and other parties interested in revitalizing education attended this meeting. The people's and the government's obvious will and commitment to education will only be successful if the international community accepts co-responsibility.

The proud and free nomadic people who live in the interior of Djibouti are not yet fully integrated into the country's educational system. Ways are being sought to provide a basic education to these people, who are totally unimpressed with modern ways. Some, in fact, regard someone who "goes to town" as a person who doesn't want to take responsibility for his/her community. One of the possibilities suggested is that teachers would be found, perhaps from their midst, who would travel with the community and so provide an education that would give the children a wider choice in the future.

The school year runs from September to June and the language of instruction is French in public and Catholic schools and Arabic in Koranic schools. A Teachers' Training College offers two-year training programs. Since 1990 the British Council English Language Project for Teachers has conducted a program to help indigenous teachers of English in secondary schools become more competent in the teaching of English. Through independent study units, set texts, and face-to-face workshops, courses in teaching English language methods are conducted.

On October 14, 2000, in time for the beginning of the 2000-2001 academic year, Pôle Universitaire de Djibouti, Djibouti's new university, opened its doors to its first students. Initially, courses in the arts will be offered, but there were plans to expand the academic curriculum in the near future. The language of instruction is French.

Djibouti's education expenditure is 2.5 percent of the Gross National Product. Newspapers, books, and magazines, mainly in French, are expensive and not readily available except to those affiliated with the international embassies.

Djibouti hosts approximately 100,000 refugees, illegal immigrants, and displaced persons, about one-fifth of the population, from Ethiopia and Somalia, the two countries on its borders wracked by civil war, drought, and famine. As members of the larger community, they share in the health and education services of the country. However, the sheer number of people moving into Djibouti places a heavy burden on the already fragile economy. Several agencies, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Labor Office based in Geneva, Switzerland, have started educational programs to help especially refugee women who, often without their men to help them take care of their children, need to see to the daily needs of their families. Vocational training centers that provide auto-mechanics and electrical installation for males and handicraft and tailoring for females attempt to ease dependence on outside aid and offer limited opportunities for gainful employment.

—Karin I. Paasche

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