History & Background
Mali became independent from France in 1960. Ruled by dictatorship after that, Mali's first democratic presidential election was held in 1992. In July 2000, the population was estimated at 10,685,948 people. Mali is among the poorest countries in the world; in 1999 GDP per capita was estimated at $820. About 10 percent of the population is nomadic and 80 percent of the labor force works in farming and fishing. Adult illiteracy has been reduced from 86.4 percent (males: 80.4 percent; females: 91.5 percent) in 1980 to 59.7 percent (males: 52.1 percent; females: 66.8 percent) in the year 2000. Illiteracy rates for those aged 15 to 24 were at 74.4 percent (males: 66.2 percent; females: 82.5 percent) in 1980 and 35.7 percent (males: 29.3 percent; females: 42.1 percent) in 2000.
At independence in 1960, the new leaders of the country believed strongly in the importance of education to promote economic development and health, as well as to foster national unity in a country with many ethnic groups.
The French colonial education system that existed prior to independence had not served the needs of the new country well. At independence, 90 percent of the people were illiterate, and 88 percent of the children did not attend school. In all of Mali, there were only 3 veterinarians, 12 professors, 10 doctors, 3 pharmacists, 12 lawyers, and 7 engineers. As in all its colonies, the goal of the education France had provided was to assimilate the people, to transform them into "French" women and, more frequently, men; only belatedly were women admitted to the schools. This elite would then spread French civilization and defend France's interests in the colony. The language of instruction was French, which played an important role in the assimilation process. The curriculum placed a heavy emphasis on France, its history, geography, and values; indigenous history, geography, and values played no role in the curriculum.
In 1877, the "School of Hostages," the first public schools in Mali, formerly known as the French Sudan, opened. In these schools the sons of the chiefs were kept hostage so their fathers would not rebel against the French authorities, hence the term "School of Hostages." Later, in 1899, the schools were renamed Les Ecoles des Fils des Chefs (The Schools for Sons of Chiefs) because France needed indigenous allies in spreading French civilization and defending French interests in the colony. Other colonial schools followed, among them four-year primary schools and six-year regional schools in larger cities. The Ecole Primaire Superieure (High Primary School) was founded in 1931. There were only a few secondary schools in all of West Africa; among them were the Higher Technical School and the School for Veterinarians in Bamako, French Sudan. Before independence, Mali had no institutions of higher education; secondary school graduates went to Dakar, Senegal, or to France. Ironically, in France, students from colonial Africa founded Le Mouvement des Etudiants de l'Afrique Noire (The Movement of Black African Students), which contributed to the eventual decolonization of Africa in the 1960s.
There existed, prior to independence, two other forms of education: traditional and Islamic. The goal of traditional education was to prepare young people for adult life. The young learned values from the adults by participating with them in various ceremonies and rituals; they also learned local history, legends, geography, poetry, music, and local medical knowledge.
Mali is 80 percent Muslim, and Islam has had a strong impact on education in the country. Islamic education dates from the fourteenth century when cities like Timbuktu were important centers of learning. In the twenty-first century, the Koran, the traditions of Muhammad, and Islamic canon law still are taught in Mali.
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