Adama Bamba not only is the “Prime Minister”, but he also has the aura of a leader. He listens with interest, makes close eye contact and expresses himself eloquently, gently moving his hands to stress a point. He and his “government” are explaining their “Action Plan” to a group of visitors as they sit in their classroom in a primary school in Mougna, in the district of Djenné.
Adama is only twelve years old and is in sixth grade at a school, which has been designated “child friendly” with the support of UNICEF. The school has a government, comprised of five boys and four girls. It aims to ensure that pupils participate in how their school is run. They work closely with a school council – which is composed of the school director as well as community leaders. The school environment needs to be conducive to every aspect of child development and to ensure that the school actively encourages all children, especially those that tend to drop out first, notably girls, the very poor and children with disabilities.
The Director of the school, Salif Koné, says the school government has made a difference. “There are some problems that the school government is better able to solve than the council; for example before the pupils had to pay for consultations at the health centre, but they were able to negotiate not to pay.” There has also been progress in keeping girls in school. Nana Plea, a farmer and also a member of the school council, says, “If a girl drops out, I go to the house and find out why and try to get her back into school.” The school now has 196 boys and 208 girls. Also simple improvements, like separate latrines can make huge differences to girls. “The girls’ latrines are a little further away from the school building as they need more privacy” says Adama. He points out that each class has its own soap and a water carrier so they can wash their hands.
Keeping the school clean is also a priority. “Every Friday at 5pm, all the pupils clean our school, including the toilets.” The Minister of Discrimination, 10-year-old Safoura Sao, adds that she has been particularly concerned about how boys treat girls. “If a boy beats a girl, the girl will tell me and I will report him to the school council and his parents will then be informed.”
UNICEF has provided each pupil with smart blue backpacks with school materials inside, such as pens, pencils and rulers. “The bags help motivate the children,” says Koné. “They all keep them in good condition.” “If we had meals provided at school, our numbers would go up to 500 students,” says Koné. Adama, who is the son of a local medical doctor, agrees. “I live near so I can go home to eat, but there are a lot of children who cannot, and they do not eat for the whole day.”
Special efforts are also made to ensure that children with disabilities come to school. Members of the school council have taken part in a training supported by UNICEF on how to integrate children with disabilities into school. Twelve year -old Diakaridia has a mental disability following a bout of cerebral malaria four years ago. The school works closely with his father, Daouda Konda, who has always wanted him to have an education despite his disability. “Although he is not the same as the others, he can understand things,” says his father. Diakaridia needs some encouragement to talk from the head master, but he does with a shy smile. “I like learning at school, as I would like to do what my father does, charging batteries for cars,” he says. Adama adds that the school government makes sure that children with disabilities are not discriminated against. “They must be made to feel part of our school.” And what about Adama, what are his dreams for himself? He answers without a second thought. “This experience as “Prime Minister” has convinced me that I want to be a teacher.”