UNICEF Mali supports the local education authorities and community organizations for 400 schools to ensure that all children have access to primary school. In 40 of these sites, the focus is on the link between Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres, Non-Formal Education (NFE) centres and primary school enrolment for children who have missed out on education.
Early childhood development centres refer children to the local primary school once they are seven years old. Non-formal education centres give basic literacy classes to children between 9 and 18 years and teach skills, such as carpentry or sewing. Those children who want to and are not too old are reintegrated into the primary education system. All children aged 3 to 18 years have a chance to start and continue some form of education, with each institution closely linked to refer children when necessary.
The Government of Mali is committed to providing access to quality education for all children. In this respect, a ten-year programme on Access to Quality Education was developed (PRODEC). Mali has adopted the ‘Fast Track Initiative’ to accelerate the process to reach universal primary education by 2015. Gross enrolment stands at 80 per cent, with 70.7 per cent girls of girls enrolled.
Despite sustained increase in enrolment rates in primary school, the quality of education is unsatisfactory as the achievement rate is as low as 54 per cent for boys, 44.8 per cent for girls. This poor quality of education is further compromised by the high student/teacher ratio, the scarcity of textbooks and the large proportion of unqualified teachers.
There are also disparities between rural and urban schools. Qualified teachers are deployed to urban schools, while unqualified teachers are generally found in poor, rural areas. National statistics indicate for the 2008 academic year in Bamako, the capital city, sixth grade attainment was 103.5 per cent, whereas in Kidal, in the northeast of the country, only 24.7 per cent students reached grade six.
UNICEF supports the efforts of the government in the regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, Segou and Mopti through a Basic Education and Equity component of the Mali-UNICEF cooperation program started in 2008. These regions were selected on the basis of criteria including low education indicators (enrolment and completion rates, and high gender gap), the size of the district and the student population. To stop this trend, it is urgent to enhance the teaching capacities of teachers and the management capacities of SMC in poor rural schools.
The UNICEF Mali Basic Education and Equity Component contribute to both MDG2 on achieving primary education and MDG3 on gender equality in basic education and women empowerment. UNICEF in Mali works with the Ministry of Education to develop and implement policies on increased access, improved quality of education and enhanced quality of the education management system.
For the next two years the Basic Education and Equity component will reach 400 child-friendly primary schools, 300 Early Childhood Development Centres and 300 Non-Formal Education Centres in favour of approximately 250,000 children.