A recent trip to Africa, where I had the opportunity to visit many schools and meet students who are aspiring to a better education, to serve their countries, to help their families and even to become tomorrow's leaders, was a thought-provoking and dispiriting experience.
Education is a basic right of every human being, but it is a right that is being well and truly violated in Senegal.
Senegal is one of the 53 African nations that celebrates this year 5 decades of independence from its colonizers. Sadly however, it would be a mistake to think that this independence has made a difference to the educational system.
The Senegalese government is failing kids at all levels. The system is too complex and hopelessly out of date.
Kids go to school with low expectations and have to work in dreadful conditions, including classrooms that are hot, sandy and dirty.
Teachers' lack of proper training is spreading mediocrity to thousands every day but nobody is monitoring the situation. Thousands of students in Senegal struggle to find books, (maths, history, geography, science), computers and other basics. Libraries and place of learning are rare in Senegal. Books are too expensive and lessons are still copied from the board.
The Senegalese curriculum is too heavy, often changed without consultation and not adapted to international or local standards. Outdated and in-adapted philosophy textbooks are studied that serve no use to anyone and science lessons are pitched too high. The work of Leopold Sedar Senghor - Senegal's first president, one of Africa's leading 20th century intellectuals and the first black man to become a member of the French Academy - will not be found in the more rural and isolated parts of Senegal, simply because there are no books at all or the French language is not understood and/or spoken badly.
When you are poor and have few resources, basic survival comes first.
The government is spending on real estate, by building hotels and other luxury developments, but little is being invested in education. Recent government claims that it is to spend 40% of the annual budget on educating its people are misleading.
Conditions of study throughout Senegal are tough. Kids that have poor parents will continue to be penalized by the system, while those from wealthier families will not fulfill their potential either because the program is not adapted to their needs. Most kids from privileged backgrounds finish their studies abroad. The prospects for building a stronger, better-equipped Senegalese workforce in the next 10 years look grim. Unless the conditions of study and investment in education are looked into with urgency, I don’t see any future for the current generation. This is the sad reality in Kaolack today in 2010.