One of the barriers to education for many children in developing countries, including Gambia, are the compulsory school fees that parents have to pay. The burden of school fees often results in parents not enrolling (all) their children in school or children dropping out early without finishing primary or secondary education. Gambia’s education system follows Anglophone West Africa, and includes six years of primary school, three years of lower secondary school, and three years of upper secondary school.
According to Gambia’s Education Country Status Report (2011), out of 100 children who enter grade 1, only 75 reach grade 6 and only 60 reach grade 9. This is a significant drop-out that particularly affects girls.
Abolishing Extra School fees
The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) with support of the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education has established a policy aimed at abolishing all public school fees for primary and secondary education by 2015. With a new $6.9 million GPE grant, Gambia will be able to improve the quality of teaching and learning in primary schools, build new schools and strengthen the governance and management of the country’s education system.
School improvement grants, which started in September 2013, are part of the overall program. These grants will be provided to primary and lower secondary schools, and will help abolish all forms of fees charged in public schools.
The Education For All Campaign Network helps promote school improvement grants
The Education For All Campaign Network (EFANet) supports the introduction of the school improvements grants. It is a complex task to inform school heads, teachers, parents and local communities about the opportunities and challenges of using and managing these grants most effectively to achieve results for children. Therefore, EFANet supports a nation-wide sensitization campaign in close cooperation with the ministry, supported by the German BACKUP Initiative Education in Africa.
EFANet has been advocating for improved access to education in Gambia since 2001. It is important to ensure that by 2015 all children, particularly girls and children in difficult circumstances, have access to and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality. EFANet has successfully used grants from the Civil Society Education Fund which is resourced by the Global Partnership for Education and managed by the Global Campaign for Education since 2010. The development and implementation of the school improvement grants policy is a major step towards achieving free education in Gambia.
As part of this campaign, a task team consisting of members of partner organizations and ministry representatives developed key communication messages and materials. Then, trainings and workshops were carried out for schools in all regions. Over 500 participants composed of school managers, parents, community and women leaders learned about the school improvement grants, the abolishment of school fees, and the roles and responsibilities of the key players such as the Regional Education Directorate, school management committees, head teachers, parents, and students. This was supported by frequent broadcasts in radio and TV shows to ensure nationwide coverage in local languages.
Initial results are encouraging
Since September 2013, all public school fees for primary schools have been abolished. Starting in September 2014, the school improvement grants will be implemented for lower and senior secondary schools. EFANet will continue to raise awareness on this issue to make sure that no school will ask for fees, and to encourage parents to send their children to school.
Initial assessments indicate that the school improvement grants have led to an increase in student enrolment. This is encouraging and we will continue to support and monitor this positive development.