Curbing the Attrition Rate of Teachers – The EFA/FTI Programme in The Gambia
Until four years ago, Biran Saine, aged 47, walked 25km to and fro along the seemingly endless stretch of road that leads from Basse Santa-Su where he lives, to Chamoi-Bunda where he teaches at the lower basic school. On a good day, he could catch a ride with a public van to the mouth of Chamoi-Bunda where he would then make the rest of his journey on foot. Like many areas in rural Gambia, Wuli West District in the Upper River Region also suffers from its fair share of socio-economic problems.
At school, weary Biran would stare helplessly around his near empty classroom, sadly wondering whether any of the absentees would return. The limited learning resources he had to contend with improved neither his nor his students’ academic situation. At the end of a long day, exhausted and filled with a sense of dissatisfaction, Biran had to attend a teacher’s committee meeting once or twice a week at the School Cluster Centre 5.5km from the school.
“Life was often very difficult for teachers, especially those in remote, hard to reach villages,” Biran admitted reflectively. The teacher of 15 years was on the verge of giving up a job he loved to move to the urban region in search of greener pastures when the EFA-FTI programme for students and teachers was introduced in Chamoi-Bunda Lower Basic School.
The high attrition rate of qualified teachers, owing to their deplorable social and economic conditions, has contributed immensely to the lack of quality education, and low enrolment and retention. According to the UIS/EFA projection report on the global demand for teachers (2009), 2.4 million teachers, in Africa alone, should be employed by 2015 to reach the EFA goal for teachers. Three out of four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa face a severe teacher gap. In The Gambia, it is estimated that 65% of trained and qualified Gambian teachers now live and work abroad as a result of low morale and very little incentives to retain them, especially at rural postings. An annual growth rate of 3.6% is required to close the teacher gap in the Gambia by 2015.
“With the EFA’s attractive FTI package for teachers, I’m certain that they will meet their target by 2015,” Biran stated confidently. “Last year alone, UNICEF was able to assist the government mobilize US$28 million of the FTI Catalytic Fund to help teachers and promote quality education. The FTI package provides me with hardship allowance, and my salary has increased by 20%, which makes a great difference. I save over D70 a week on transport fare thanks to the bicycle I received. The incentives and benefits are beginning to attract qualified teachers, male and female, to rural postings. The FTI boosts up our spirits and revives our zeal for teaching.”
The EFA/FTI programme does not only address the social and economic needs of teachers, but their academic needs and those of their students as well. Biran received trainings through cluster based workshops to enhance his teaching skills. These gatherings also allowed him to exchange ideas with other teachers, discuss problems, and find solutions to them. “The programme is instrumental in the retention of students, especially girls,” Biran explained further. “It ensures that each child is provided with a personal text book, free of charge, and other relevant learning resource materials, which have contributed to the increase in enrolment.” Through the combined efforts of government and private initiatives and scholarship programmes, such as the EFA’s FTI, UNICEF’s Child-Friendly School Initiative and Mothers’ Clubs, the President’s Endowment for Girls’ Education Programme, and the National Scholarship Trust Fund for Girls, The Gambia has attained gender parity at primary school level. The NER at primary school level is estimated at 70%.
The benefits offered by the FTI programme extend further beyond the school. With the active involvement of the Region 6 Education Office, communities were sensitized about the programme while Mothers’ Clubs are empowered and now play a significant role in advocating against cultural and domestic practices that interfere with their children’s education.
“Although we still have a long way to go to further improve the education system, I’m now happy being a teacher,” Biran disclosed. “It’s a nice feeling to enter a classroom full of eager children and know that your day will be rewarding.”
Sally Sadie Singhateh