SEATTLE — The central and coastal African nation of Gabon boasts a system based upon French patterns, with developments made to fit the Gabonese and their cultural traditions. With the 5-4-3 structure implemented in 2004 (previously a 6-4-3 structure), primary schooling begins at six years old and lasts for five years, lower secondary consists of grades six through nine and lasts for four years and upper secondary consists of grade ten through twelve and lasts for three years. The Education Policy and Data Center, EPDC, states that in principle, education in Gabon is free and compulsory for primary and lower secondary.
With a primary language of French, the Gabonese hold one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The system for education in Gabon breeds this by having an adult literacy program provided by the government. Records show that in 1995, 36.8 percent of adults were illiterate in the country, as of 2015 83.2 percent of adults were literate, with an annual growth rate of 5 percent. UNICEF reports higher rates from 2008-2012 for youth aged fifteen to twenty-four, with nearly 99 percent literate for men and 97 percent literate for women.
Attendance is one of Gabon’s major issues in regard to education. The aforementioned UNICEF report notes a decrease in school attendance and participation between primary and secondary schools. Between 2008 and 2012, primary school attendance was a bit over 85 percent, but secondary school attendance dropped to a percentage between 49 and 57 percent, dependent on gender. There is also a high repetition rate, as many children cannot complete or pass a grade or level the first time.
Gabon is considered an upper-middle-income country economically, but the World Bank sites a 2013 McKinsey report suggesting “that about 30 percent of the population remains vulnerable, living with monthly incomes below the guaranteed minimum wage of FCFA 80,000. The study further states that the social situation has deteriorated in terms of access to basic social services (e.g. health care, drinking water, and electricity) in 60 percent of the regions.”
This McKinsey report, cited by the World Bank, in conjunction with the UNICEF report, highlights a need for access to education in Gabon as a necessary social service, in order to raise school attendance levels at the upper secondary level.
Should the Gabonese government take into consideration the value of education as a social service (both economically and politically) for the future of their nation, then Gabon and its citizens can look forward to truly being lifelong learners.
– Gabriella Paez