In Benin, more than 700,000 children aged 10-17 do not attend school or have dropped out, i.e. 45% of school-age children. Strong demographic growth (2.6%) is putting additional pressure on the Benin education system, which is already struggling to meet the needs of the population. Rural regions, including Borgou, are hardest hit.
In adopting the Ten-Year Education Sector Development Plan (PDDSE, 2006-2015), the government of Benin sent a clear signal that it wishes to take action on behalf of the sector. Free and compulsory primary schooling for all is now a government priority, but a lack of resources is hindering the deployment of the plan.
A second-chance school
In Borgou, a rural department in northern Benin on the border with Nigeria, 54% of young people aged 9-15 do not attend school. This is nearly 10% higher than the national average.
Some children have never attended school, while others have dropped out without acquiring the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Without a high-quality basic education, these children will have problems integrating into society and the workforce. It is against this backdrop that the SDC has been funding since 2011 the Programme for Supporting Education and Training for Children Excluded from the Education System (PAEFE) in Borgou.
The programme focuses on children from the ages of 9 (when it is too late for them to start traditional primary education) to 15 (when they are old enough for vocational training). Priority is given to girls, who are more likely to be placed in foster care or pushed into forced labour, and more generally to children forced to beg in the streets, disabled children and children from nomadic families.
Basic education and introduction to trades
The pedagogical approach and the teaching, given in the local language and French, are geared to the needs of the various groups of children. Education provision equivalent to lower primary enables children who have never attended school or who have dropped out to acquire basic skills and to ultimately apply to sit the CEP (primary school leaving certificate). For the first time, at the session in June 2015, nearly 450 children from the programme sat the exam and 77% passed.
In an effort to encourage the integration of young people into the labour market, the programme also provides introductory courses in various trades. These courses aim to pave the way for young people to access vocational training in trades deemed to promote local development. These include agriculture, livestock farming, fish farming, market gardening, crafts, micro-loans, health and hygiene, simplified accounting and the organisation and management of socio-economic activities.
By the end of the first phase of the programme, nearly 90 classrooms had been opened in more than 50 bilingual BARKA centres. A total of nearly 2,200 children (of whom 56% are girls) from more than 70 different localities in the Borgou region have benefited from the programme.
Steady dialogue with local actors
The programme focuses on supporting and bolstering the skills of local actors. Support and collaboration with actors in Benin – decentralised government services, department-level structures, municipalities and communities – are constantly encouraged. The high level of involvement by local communities, specifically in funding canteens, recruiting staff, getting involved in construction work and purchasing equipment, shows just how keen they are to take action in this sector. Ultimately, the aim is to enable the municipalities to gradually take over the implementation of the programme.
Doors open to the future
The education provided under the programme is a springboard for the children’s future. When they finish their training, the children can join or re-join the formal education system via gateways. They also have the option of pursuing secondary education and even moving on to higher education or taking vocational courses.
After 2015, PAEFE will move into its second phase, lasting four years. The programme will be expanded to include Alibori, a neighbouring department in the northern tip of Benin.