NIAMEY, Niger — Niger is a landlocked country located in West Africa with a population of about 17 million. As of 2013 it is the least developed country in the world, ranking last at 187 on the U.N. Human Development Index.
One of the main reasons for its lack of development has to do with the fact that only 12 percent of its land is arable. The majority of land is barren Sahara desert.
Severe and extensive droughts are common in this region. This makes the mostly subsistence farming populace susceptible to food insecurity.
Political instability is another reason it has been difficult for Niger to develop. After gaining independence from France in 1960 Niger has gone back and forth between military coups and weak democratic institutions.
Lack of government stability and economic opportunities has made providing easily accessible, quality education to Nigeriens quite difficult.
According to UNICEF, youth literacy for males is 50 percent and only 23 percent for females—adult literacy stands at 28 percent.
Primary school attendance rate for males is 44 percent and 31 percent for females. School attendance further decreases with only 13 percent attendance in secondary school for males and eight percent for females.
The government spends 3.9 percent of the GDP on education, which is not necessity a small amount (the U.S. spends 5.4 percent). But with more than 50 percent of the population under 15, much of the population is being neglected.
Besides a need for increased government spending on education, there are other factors which make implementing education in Niger difficult.
One reason is that the majority of the population lives off of subsistence farming. Most children need to contribute to their family’s livelihood.
It many circumstances is not beneficial for a family to send a child to school. In fact, 42 percent of children participate in the labor force.
Rural populations also suffer from lack of functioning institutions. Rural areas are often ignored by the government and schools are not built and teachers are not trained.
As for women and young girls, Niger supports a culture that believes women should stay at home to raise children. In a country where child marriage is prevalent—with 36 percent married by age 15 and 74 percent married by age 18—most young girls leave school at an early age to become mothers.
Like any developing nation, Niger has seen various nonprofit and transnational organizations begin to work within the country to expand education, especially for girls.
For example UNESCO began The Basic Education Africa Programme (BEAP) in Niger as well as other Sub-Saharan African nations. This program works to expand basic education through “advocacy and policy advice; capacity building and technical support.”
Another organization is the nonprofit PLAN International. Through their IMAGINE program they are working to expand education to young girls by constructing “girl friendly” schools. This means building separate latrines for both boys and girls.
PLAN also is working to “construct 68 permanent schools with over 200 classrooms, train over 1,800 teachers, provide school lunches, instruct school management committees in the maintenance of facilities and administration of local action plans, and provide income-generating activities to over 6,000 women.”
Other organizations like PLAN Canada, the World Bank, Relief International and even the World Food Program are focusing on programs that will help increase education in Niger as well.
The state of education in Niger is dire, but continued efforts to expand the education system can hopefully be the beginning of increased development for the worlds most impoverished nation.
– Eleni Lentz-Marino