SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Quality education is a stepping stone to ending poverty. In Senegal, the gross enrollment ratio in higher education was only 7%, as of 2017. Increasing enrollment in higher education in Senegal is important for students to reach their full potential. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, schools shut down, which affected their accessibility. In order to increase enrollment and educate more of the population, Senegal must continue to work to combat COVID-19.
Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar
Senegal has multiple public and private universities. More than 60,000 students attend the largest Senegalese university, Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD), located in Dakar. UCAD was established in 1957 during French colonization and still follows the French system. Named after historian, anthropologist and physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, UCAD has a medical school and a pharmacy program. It also has courses in engineering, humanities, languages, finance and law.
Though more than 60,000 students attend UCAD, the university only has 5,000 dorms. Many students live off-campus with family, but others squeeze multiple students into tiny dorm rooms. Sometimes six or seven students try to fit into a room built for just one student. Moreover, in the classrooms, students often sit in the aisles because of overcrowded classes. In many courses, overfilled seats cause a shortage of chairs in classes.
Senegal’s Response to COVID-19
As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, Senegal jumped to action. Many praised Senegal’s COVID-19 response. In Senegal, testing is free for those with symptoms, and handwashing stations are available in public. Additionally, businesses like banks, grocery stores and restaurants implemented temperature checks. Furthermore, the Senegal government ordered schools to temporarily close.
COVID-19 significantly impacted the school systems in Senegal, including universities. An adviser who works in higher education in Dakar spoke to The Borgen Project about how Senegal’s schools and universities reacted to the pandemic. She revealed that in March 2020, all schools closed for at least four months. No classes were offered during that time except for exam classes like the baccalaureate, a qualification exam for higher education.
The schools offered some online and television courses for students working toward their baccalaureate. However, students at universities, primary and secondary schools could not take regular courses online because of the lack of widespread reliable internet access. Only 46% of Senegal’s population had internet access in 2019.
When the government decided to allow schools to reopen in Senegal, many students and parents were reluctant. Once universities finally reopened, the schools attempted to introduce preventative policies for COVID-19. Universities and schools tried social distancing, but in some cases, it was not possible for students to socially distance themselves. Sources said that social distancing at UCAD was unthinkable because of the overcrowding at the university.
However, the university does have measures to ensure students are washing their hands and wearing masks. Students can find handwashing stations located around the university’s campus. Although COVID-19 temporarily shut down universities, students proved to be resilient. While social distancing may not be possible at large universities like UCAD, other preventative policies are in place.
University Students Fight COVID-19
University students across Senegal came together to fight COVID-19 with two projects.
- 100,000 Students Against COVID-19 is an organization created by university students who teamed up to fight COVID-19 on campus. This organization was formed by students across eight public universities in Senegal with the Virtual University of Senegal and the University of Gaston Berger St. Louis leading the way. This initiative includes four objectives: Communication Surveillance, Awareness and Prevention, Identification of Opinion Leaders and Innovation and Initiative. Students could sign up as volunteers on the initiative’s website. The group also shared news on Facebook and Twitter and students spread COVID-19 information by engaging with local community influencers. This young group of students ultimately advanced Senegal’s COVID-19 resilience.
- Senegalese Engineering Students at Ecole Superieure Polytechnique (ESP) created technology to aid hospitals working with COVID-19 patients. ESP, located in Dakar, is the country’s most elite engineering school. Students invented robots like “Dr. Car,” a robot that measures blood pressure and temperature. Robots allow doctors to reach their patients without entering contagious patients’ rooms. Doctors can use remote-controlled robots to direct robots into a patient’s room. They can also communicate with their patients through the robot. The students also created automatic sanitizer dispensers.
Higher Education in Senegal Leads to the Eradication of Poverty
Senegal’s university students helped lead the fight against COVID-19. For example, with their higher education, engineering students invented robots to aid hospitals. By increasing university enrollment, Senegal will come closer to reaching full productivity and innovation capacity. Education is a powerful tool that can uplift people from poverty. With each additional year of education, income earnings increase by 10%. Enrolling and educating Senegalese students helps them move away from poverty.
Senegalese university students are making significant accomplishments, as seen with their COVID-19 projects. It is important for Senegal and other countries to invest in education because it produces knowledgeable people and ensures they receive the abilities required to succeed. Higher education in Senegal has made great strides in fighting COVID-19. The pandemic exposed problems within the education system, but it also showed how education helps students work together. If Senegal’s universities and students continue to work together the way they did during COVID-19, Senegal will come one step closer to eradicating poverty.
– Bailey Lamb