The Gambia’s Education system has undergone a number of transformations since the advent of the first Education Policy (1976 -1986). The successor Policies of 1988-2003 and 2004-2015 all recognize the issues of access, relevance and quality education underpinned by the principles of equity to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goals and the MDG goals 2 and 3 by 2015. The implementation of these policies witnessed a rapid expansion in access to basic education, resulting in a Gross Enrolment ratio (GER) of 92 per cent in 2014 (Education Management Information System - Generate Year Book 2014).
Demand for education is higher than the level of supply, and the quality and rate of continuity (i.e. the proportion of students who continue to the next class or next level of education) is low, particularly for girls, as not all children remain in school up to the Upper Basic level. Out of 69 per cent of children starting school, only 63 per cent reach 9th Grade and only 17 per cent achieve a pass in mathematics, which indicates a major problem relating to quality. The rural poor girls have only 1 per cent chance of reaching Grade 12 as opposed to 43 per cent of boys in the urban areas (Country Status Report 2010).
The National Assessment Test (NAT) is conducted yearly in Grades 3, 5, and 8. It is used to determine how well the education system is functioning. The NAT showed that the overall performance of students improved from 41.5 per cent in 2012 to 45.6 per cent in 2014 in English Language (MoBSE, CCM 2014). This means that less than half of the students who did the test did not meet the minimum pass level. This shows that the education system is still challenged with some quality and equity issues.
The proportion of teachers that are qualified is 88 per cent in 2014, but the distribution is uneven and skewed towards the urban and semi-urban areas leaving the rural areas with a ratio of 46 pupils for every qualified teacher (Education Management Information System, 2014).
Over 7 out of every 10 children will complete primary education of 6 years. There are differences between regions and in the worst affected regions, less than half of the children (45 per cent) will complete primary education. Access to clean water and improved sanitation is also a major challenge as many schools do not have access to clean and reliable water supply and improved toilet facilities.
To address the challenge of quality in schools, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) developed an innovative approach called the Program for Improved Quality Standards in Schools (PIQSS). This is an adaptation of the Child Friendly School Initiative (CFSI), which integrates the principles of the whole school development. UNICEF, in partnership with the MoBSE, introduced the PIQSS initiative in 90 schools in poor rural areas of the country as part of its equity agenda and is making progress in terms of improving access and students’ learning achievements.
The approach includes all features that influence the well-being and rights of children to quality basic education. It covers the following:
School Environment and Management
Recognizing that effective learning cannot take place in a poor school environment where classrooms are inadequate or dilapidated and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are grossly inadequate, UNICEF works with the Ministry of Education to improve the physical environment of schools.
Classrooms and separate toilet facilities for boys and girls as well as hand pumps are built and school management practices are enhanced through school development plans and training in financial management, assets management, staff management and school data.
Teaching and learning
This covers curriculum improvement, teacher training focusing on child centered approaches, the provision of teaching and learning materials, and improvement in monitoring learning achievements. The focus of this intervention is on the organization of teaching time and the planning, delivery and assessment of lessons.
This covers health and nutritional issues in school. With support from the Ministry of Health and the World Food Programme (WFP), school feeding is provided and the maintenance of a healthy school environment is ensured to promote the prevention of diseases such malaria and diarrhoea. Life skills are also addressed, with a focus on HIV/AIDS prevention and child protection, including the prevention of violence in schools as well as sports and recreational activities promoting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of children.
The strengthening of School Management Committees and Mothers Clubs as well as School Environment Clubs is being conducted and includes aspects of communication for development for increased enrolment, attendance and completion of basic education.
Early Childhood Development (ECD)
UNICEF adopts a two-pronged approach to ECD, with focus on a comprehensive parenting education programme where, on one hand, children less than 3 years of age are targeted through parental education, and on the other, children 3-6 years of age are targeted through school readiness or pre-school. UNICEF supports the school readiness intervention through the training of facilitators and provision of adequate teaching and learning materials as well as curriculum development and the monitoring of children’s development.
Since the introduction of the PIQSS in 2012 the following results have been realized:
These results, notwithstanding the PIQSS approach, will be intensified in the coming years to further promote quality improvement in schools while ensuring conducive learning environments and further strengthening teachers’ skills in child centered teaching methodologies. Children will become healthier and protected, schools well managed, completion and retention rates particularly for girls improved, and children’s learning outcomes enhanced.