In 1998, the government began a big initiative to improve the education system. Since then, primary education is free, schools can't charge fees for the first six years of school. The plan also included a 15-year program to increase enrollment rates, let children entry schools earlier and improve basic education curricula and teacher training.
The improvement since then is big: enrollment rate increased from 62% to 79% from 1989 to 1995. 1200 unqualified teachers received training and more textbooks were made available. Also there was introduced a national school uniform, designed by students from Gambia College. The goal was to have a minimum of 90% enrollment rate in 2005, and at that time, the enrollment rate for primary school was 97%. Since around 2004, the enrollments for boys and girls are equal.
Children enter government -directed education at the age of seven. Some children begin their education a few years earlier and have the privilege to go to a privately owned nursery school from the age of four or five. After Upper Basic school, students take a standardized exam to qualify for Senior Secondary school. Unfortunately, most students will end there education at the end of the Upper Basic cycle, due to a lack of money or not getting good test results.
Table 1: The levels of education in The Gambia
|Name of institution||Time spent||Enrollment rate in 2005|
|Lower Basic||5 years||97%|
|Upper Basic||3 years||97%|
If students do attend Senior Secondary school, they have to pass another exam at the end of the four year, the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Depending on their performance, they can now attend a university or another tertiary institution. But unfortunately, only 5% of the students have the opportunity to study a tertiary education. University of The Gambia is the country's only university. It was established by an act of the National Assembly of the Gambia in 1999.
Education level and literacy
Though the education is improving in the Gambia, there are still a lot people that have never been to school. Than they often don't speak English and can't read or spell. But the illiteracy is lower in the younger generation, due to the improved education system and obligatory primary education.
The illiteracy is especially present in the older generation. In the whole population over 15 years old, 55,5% can read. In the younger generation, which is now 15-24 years old, 72,6% of the males and 63,6% of the females can read. The expectancy is that this percentage will increase in the coming years, because the total effects of the improved system will only be visible in a couple of years from now, when the new generation is at the age of 20.
Way of learning
The way people learn in the Gambia is different than the way we learn in school. The most used method is to learn by copying the teacher. Barbara Somers told us about this. It is very important for us to remember this, because we plan to give workshops to different groups of people. Especially with the groups of women which won't speak English (well), we have to think very well about how we prepare the workshops for them. We are busy writing these workshops and will publish them om Open Research as well.