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Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo cites benefits of girls’ education in Senegal

© UNICEF Senegal/2006/Bakker
UNICEF Goodwill Angélique Kidjo surrounded by young girls from the Liberté VI A primary school in Dakar, Senegal.
By Nisha Bakker

DAKAR, Senegal, 24 May 2006 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo walked around the schoolyard visibly at ease, greeting everyone warmly – and with good reason. In time for Senegal’s National Week of Basic Education (22-28 May) the Liberté VI A primary school in Dakar has achieved gender parity: Fifty-two per cent of students enrolled here are female.

Now, the emphasis – as in primary schools all across Senegal – is on curbing the drop-out rate and keeping girls in class.

“When I was a little girl,” Ms. Kidjo told the children, “my father would not allow me to go outside to play with my friends until I had done all my homework and showed that I had mastered the lesson. It sometimes made me angry. Why are my friends outside and I am still inside?

“Now I know why,” she continued. “Wherever I go, I speak the languages I learned, I have the job I like and I have knowledge to share with other people. Now, I’m very grateful to my father. I hope you all, especially the girls, will do the same and study hard to succeed in life.”

Indirect costs affect girls

Ms. Kidjo was in Dakar to promote girls’ education, an important element of Senegal’s education week, which this year focuses on an integrated approach to primary education.

The integrated approach is based on a vision that goes beyond simply increasing school enrolment. All children should be enrolled, but to ensure that they remain in school, quality education must be provided in a clean and stimulating environment.

Most of Senegal’s 6,000 public primary schools do not have access to clean water, and only 55 per cent of the schools have proper toilet facilities. Although schooling is free and compulsory in Senegal and the state provides learning materials, many parents feel they are not able to meet the indirect costs of education. They therefore keep girls at home to take care of the household ahead of an early marriage.

‘Leaders of tomorrow’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, drop-out rates are still high, especially for girls; fewer than half of those enrolled actually complete five years of primary education. Current figures suggest that only 29 per cent of women here are literate, compared to 51 per cent of men.

UNICEF is working with partners to make more schools ‘girl friendly’ with basic water and sanitation facilities. Health and hygiene, school feeding and the quality of education are also key factors that lead to better results in school and greater enrollment and retention of girls.

“We need to support girls to succeed in primary school and their continuation to secondary school,” said Ms. Kidjo in Dakar. “It will lead to equality of chances in life and a huge stride for development in Africa. Education is the key to everything. Every student should work hard to succeed, as they are our leaders and managers of tomorrow.”




24 May 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo’s visit to Senegal to promote girls’ education.
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