Shining the spotlight on basic education completion and foundational learning in Senegal

Part of a series of blogs on recent research on foundational literacy and numeracy in Africa.

A recent report has placed the spotlight on foundational literacy and numeracy in Senegal. The work was undertaken by the GEM Report and the Association for the Development
of Education in Africa (ADEA) in partnership with the Ministry of National Education and the Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale (CRES). The Spotlight on Basic Education Completion and Foundational Learning in Senegal is one of five country reports on foundational literacy and numeracy, which feed into a continental Spotlight report on Africa, Born to learn, the first of a three-part series, in partnership with the African Union. The research used a common set of research questions, analytical framework and approach.

The report highlights a challenge with access to primary education in recent years with the gross enrolment rate in primary education stagnating since 2015 just above 80%. As displayed on the VIEW website, which presents the results of an estimation model that compiles data from multiple surveys, 51% of children are now completing primary school ‘on time’ (i.e. by age 15), a figure considerably higher than 18%, where it stood two decades ago. Eventually just over 6 in 10 children complete primary. But these data as well suggest that progress has slowed down in recent years.

Timely and ultimate primary completion rate in Senegal

Source: VIEW website

Senegal has actively participated in comparative learning assessments although the interpretation of the data is not always straightforward. In 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, with the financial support of the Global Partnership for Education and the technical support of the Australian Council for Educational Research, organized the Monitoring Impacts on Learning Outcomes (MILO) assessment in six sub-Saharan African countries. In the four francophone countries, one of which was Senegal, there was close collaboration with the PASEC regional assessment, managed by CONFEMEN. Among students at the end of primary school, 34% reached the minimum proficiency level in mathematics and 13% in French. Both results were consistent with the analysis of 2019 PASEC data.

Percentage of students at the end of primary education who meet the minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics, Senegal and other sub-Saharan African countries, 2021

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2022).

As part of the research for the report, small-scale fieldwork was carried out visiting 22 schools , of which one third was in rural areas. Lesson observations took place with classes in grades 1-3, while a qualitative survey was conducted with 315 basic education stakeholders. Interviews were undertaken with school authorities (academy inspectors, regional education training staff, education and training inspectors and school head teachers) as well as with mayors. Focus groups discussions were organized with teachers and communities.

The fieldwork noted considerable differences in the responses of various education and training inspectorates (IEFs). It found that relatively successful schools had significantly smaller class sizes, were better equipped with teaching materials, did not run a second shift or hold classes in temporary shelters, and had teachers who demonstrated stronger teaching skills in class. These results underline an urgent need to upgrade teacher skills to improve the level of student learning.

The report identifies two positive case studies that Senegal should share with its peers.

First, it has organized effective bridge classes or second-chance schools. These integrate children who have never been to school, or who left prematurely, and gives them a second chance to realize their right to education. The Ministry of National Education has drawn up Schooling Acceleration Plans in regions. The implementation of bridge classes brings together academy and education and training inspectorates, local authorities and civil society organizations active at the local level.

Second, Senegal has organized remedial lessons, corrective actions integrated into the pedagogical process to help students overcome difficulties and to prevent the accumulation of such obstacles from jeopardizing future learning. Remedial education occurs, in principle, at the end of each learning task and aims to inform pupils and teachers of the degree of mastery achieved. The results of the World Bank 2021 Service Delivery Indicator survey showed that 82% of schools provided remedial lessons. This proportion is lower in urban areas (77%) than in rural areas (86%), which reflects the higher prevalence in public (85%) than in private schools (68%).

Launched along with a campaign supported by the Ministry of National Education, #BorntoLearn, the Spotlight report on Senegal offers a diagnosis of the current state of foundational learning in the country and identifies policy solutions that are critical for improving education outcomes for all students – and which are worth discussing with other countries that face similar challenges.

Five recommendations were drawn from the diagnosis and discussions with basic education stakeholders:

  • Increase teacher skills, as poor mastery of the basic education curriculum has a negative impact on students learning.
  • Take all necessary actions to allow widespread use of national languages in the early years of primary education.
  • Develop a national policy for assessment of learning in basic education and establish a national system to conduct regular standardized assessments.
  • Shift the allocation of public education spending in favour of basic education.
  • Invest in school infrastructure to reduce the number of pupils per class and eliminate temporary shelters, which are a source of demotivation for pupils and teachers.

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