“When we have to sell one of our cows, goats, lambs, or chickens, so our children can go to school, and then when they get there they’re not studying under good conditions, it hurts” – Mariama Diouldé Diallo, farmer and mother of 6.
As the emerging powerhouse of francophone West Africa, Senegal commits 40% of its annual national budget to education. But many schools in the country’s southern region of Casamance are still without classrooms, leaving it up to parents to build shelters for their children before they can attend classes.
“In other area’s they don’t have the same problem. Here we have to start late because we have to construct where our children go to school. After the rainy season, we have to wait until the wood is dry enough to go out into the forest, cut it, and bring it back and have it ready for construction”, said Mariama Diouldé Diallo, who’s six children all attend school in provisional classrooms built by parents from the community.
The classrooms, also known as “abri provisoirs” or temporary shelters, help in the short term but student Ibrahima Sabaly said parents in his community have been re-building classrooms for each of the past 5 years.
“We still don’t have real classrooms. It’s been 5 years. It really delays our learning, the fact is, the abri’s aren’t even finished and it’s December, we can’t study like everyone else.” – Ibrahima Sabaly, 17, student
Although the entire country follows the same academic calendar, many students in Casamance are forced to start later and end earlier than the rest of the country. Middle school teacher Alassane Diatta said classroom construction doesn’t begin until October and classes typically don’t start until November. Because of the region’s rainy season, exams are given in May unlike the rest of Senegal’s student’s who take exams in June and July.
For the past two years, the school principal for Bignarabi middle school in Kolda has used student registration fees to pay woodcrafters to assist in building schools, but parents feel even that is not enough.
“The principal uses the money we use to register the students to construct classrooms. But imagine getting ready to send your child to school and there’s no school to send them to. You’re obviously not going to pay to register them, that’s the even bigger problem” – Mariama Diouldé Diallo
These provisional classrooms are also not able withstand the intense southern region rains and students and parents said they are fed up. But the government officials are encouraging more of the community collectiveness they’ve seen in the face of the classroom crisis.
“The regions in the south, in particular Kolda, have seen middle school and high school placement at an advanced pace. Consequently the rhythm of construction did not follow or align with the rhythm of creation. That’s what explains the importance of the abri provisiore in our region. It shows the population is really taking it upon themselves to get mobilized and do something about access to education. More and more the population that thought education was up to the state are realizing education is also their responsibility,” – Mamadou Goudiaby, chief of academic inspection for Kolda
Each of the 16 regional Academic Inspectors (IA) is responsible for supplying desks, chairs, blackboards, and other classroom essentials to schools across the country. With more than 600 local schools in each region, the IA said it has decided to allow high school students to take their exams in elementary schools, as many of those schools have already been constructed.
While the Casamance community works together to find ways to provide students with a safe and supportive educational environment, Senegal’s president Macky Sall, has acknowledged the makeshift schools are a problem and has promised to tfund projects to replace 7,000 temporary classrooms with permanent facilities by 2017.