Primary school years
The formal system of education in The Gambia consists of six years of primary (lower basic) and three years of upper basic education. These two levels together constitute 9 years of uninterrupted basic education. Children usually start school at age 7 and complete basic education at age 16 at which point they are ready to enter Senior Secondary Schools or other Vocational Training provisions depending on their performance in the terminal examination offered at grade 9.
Overall the Gross Enrolment Rates (GER) now stands at 97 per cent (Education Information Management System, 2014), including the “Madarasah” (Arabic language Muslim schools). In enrolment, the Gambia ranks considerably high, surpassing the sub-Saharan average of 69 per cent. However regional disparities exist. Whereas the urban areas are registering nearly universal access to lower basic education, the most deprived rural region (Central River Region) has a GER of 63 per cent. Major challenges remain, especially in improving quality, relevance and retention. Efforts have been intensified to accelerate results to realize the Education For All (EFA) targets and Millennium Development Goals by 2015 through improving school infrastructure.
Gender parity in primary school enrolment was reached in 2007 and has been sustained since. The ratio of boys to girls attending primary school is 103 girls for every 100 boys; however the completion rate is about 74 girls for every 100 boys.
In furthering equity in education, to ensure that the most disadvantaged children also have access, UNICEF supported the government to conduct the first National Disability Study. The study not only provided information that would increase access to education for poor and hard-to-reach children with disabilities, but also strengthen national capacities to better address the existing service delivery gaps for children with disabilities in education, health and protection.
In recent years, to boost the demand for education and cut down on costs, the government of the Gambia, through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, introduced the School Improvement Grant (SIG), a home-grown initiative, which has had much impact on increasing enrolment and retention.
At the community level, Mothers’ Clubs are formed and supported by UNICEF to embark on community-led advocacy for girls’ education. The clubs provide a platform for women at the grass roots level to raise funds and moral support for children’s education, especially girls. Through fundraising and well strategized investments, mothers help pay for hidden school costs and increase advocacy for girls’ education, mitigating such odds as early marriage and teenage pregnancy.
UNICEF supports the capacity development of Mothers’ Clubs and provides some clubs with seedy money to start or strengthen their income generating activities. This enables the Mothers’ Clubs to pay for some educational costs for needy children in their local schools, thereby creating opportunities for more girls and boys to remain and complete school. Earlier UNICEF intervention support to the Mothers’ Clubs were the provision of milling machines to relieve their daughters from the burden of time consuming chores that rob them of their education. Since the inception of the UNICEF programme, women have established about 275 Mothers Clubs affiliated to their local schools throughout the country. The programme has shown a visible impact on the enrolment rates and the retention of girls, generally in the rural areas.
WASH in school
Safety and hygiene is an important factor to ensure girls enrolment and to keep girls in school. A child that is well nourished, clean, has access to safe drinking water and feels protected is more likely to attend and learn in school.
The UNICEF sponsored Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project provides hand pumps and separate blocks of ventilated improved pit latrines for boys and girls. These latrines are also equipped with hand washing facilities - children are taught the importance of hygiene.
UNICEF, as a member of the Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on HIV/AIDS prevention through schools, works very closely with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to improve the curriculum by integrating a Life-Skills programme targeting young adolescents within the ages of 10-12 years, also known as 'window of hope'. In terms of the goals set for HIV/AIDS prevention, effort is being made to influence the attitudes of the very young children positively.
Source: Education Monitoring and Information System (EMIS)-Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education