“Education is an effective shield against extremism and obscurantism. It is a crucial factor in fighting poverty and inequality, strengthening the social contract through citizenship education, and promoting sustainable social and economic development, thus contributing to the stability and security of countries,” said Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who hosted the Sahel Education Summit in Nouakchott on December 5, 2021.
On that day, the leaders of Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad signed a landmark declaration calling for the creation of a Sahel Coalition to put education at the heart of their development strategies and transform the future of all children and young adults in the Sahel.
The World Bank’s White Paper on Education in the Sahel, unveiled during the summit, shows that children in the Sahel are falling behind despite progress in access to schooling. Between 2005 and 2018, enrollment rates in the region nearly doubled at the primary level and tripled at the secondary level. Yet, about nine in 10 students do not reach expected levels of learning in reading and writing by the end of elementary school. This is partly because two out of five students in the Sahel do not complete their primary education, and girls, in particular, are at risk of dropping out of school. In addition, the challenges of developing an inclusive and high-performing education system are exacerbated by the combination of COVID-19, conflict, and climate change. All of these factors negatively impact the socio-emotional well-being of millions of learners.
The Sahel is poised to implement community-based schooling innovations at scale
Much remains to be done, and that is the purpose of the Nouakchott Declaration. Rapid population growth requires more schools and more teachers every year. Increasingly interconnected and changing economies also require more relevant skills and curricula adapted to local conditions. School closures, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or security threats, have exacerbated already existing inequities.
In recent decades, Sahelian societies have become more resilient, and innovative community-based solutions have emerged, often driven by parents and communities. In 1989, the Mauritanian Ministry of Education transferred responsibility for school construction to parent associations; as a result, nearly 1,000 high-quality classrooms were built in one year, four times more than originally planned. A similar program was implemented in Burkina Faso, focusing on girls and rural areas, resulting in significant improvements in girls’ and boys’ access to secondary education. This approach benfited children from all backgrounds.
Community-based solutions also enable better use of existing school infrastructure. In Senegal, the Improving Quality and Equity in Basic Education project, funded by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), has helped Quranic schools, or Daaras, provide basic skills to students. The original project has already benefited 14,000 students in 100 daaras and is currently being expanded to 36,000 students.
Lessons from West and Central Africa
In recent years, countries such as Ghana and Sierra Leone have introduced promising learning outcomes interventions. In Nigeria, Edo State has embarked on a whole-system reform using modern digital technologies and the science of learning to improve teaching and learning. Multisectoral approaches such as the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project, which spans nine countries in the region, are supporting girls’ retention in school by working with religious leaders and communities, ensuring safe spaces, and providing transportation for girls.
Building on the World Bank’s White Paper on Education in the Sahel, the World Bank is preparing a new regional education strategy for West and Central Africa that will include a roadmap for action to address the learning crisis in basic education, keep girls in school, and provide a second chance for young adults who have dropped out or never attended school. The strategy is based on consultations in the region with a broad range of experts and stakeholders in the region.
With the donor conference for the 20th IDA replenishment taking place this week and a focus on education and human capital, reversing the learning losses caused by COVID-19 and ensuring better and safer educational spaces for all, especially girls, are key goals for the region. Given the strong commitment of the highest authorities and the importance of education in sustaining and nurturing future generations, it is time to support countries in implementing priority reforms to better serve children and young adults in West and Central Africa!