PORTO-NOVO, Benin — Eleven children of the same family grew up in the village of Tampegre in Northern Benin. As adults, only one of the 11 children, Alphonse Kouagou, knows how to read and write. Kouagou was selected to attend school in the village but his siblings were not chosen to receive an education.
Kouagou created the Benin Education Fund in response to his family’s personal experience and the entire country’s dire education system. In the 1990’s, Benin, a small country in West Africa, had one of the world’s lowest school enrollment rates and greatest gender equality gaps in education according to the Basic Education Coalition.
Over the past 24 years, the Beninese education system has improved significantly, allowing a large percentage of children to have access to education. Government reform and independent organizations have allowed this transformation to occur. Today, through household surveys, UNICEF estimates that 72.1 percent of school-aged males and 68.1 percent of school-aged females in Benin attend primary school.
In 2006, Benin eliminated fees for preschool and primary school via the School Fee Abolition Initiative, a program that other countries in Central and Western Africa participated in as well. Following the announcement of this initiative, 150,000 additional students had access to education in Benin.
At first, the country struggled to supply schools with adequate teachers and resources. UNICEF aided Benin and other nations with workshops on the development of education in Africa. Benin set a goal to train and hire 10,000 teachers. These workshops and hiring goals have improved school resources, allowing student attendance to steadily increase.
As UNICEF statistics indicate, however, school attendance among girls remains lower than school attendance among boys. Organizations in Benin are attempting to improve to improve this statistic. UNICEF supported a program, known as big-sistering, in which older female students took responsibility for younger female students attending school. They walked together and checked in on each other’s families if one student was absent. Additionally, on June 19, 2014, Peace Corps and the Human Solidarity Benin organization hosted a run across Benin to encourage female empowerment and raise funds for girls’ education in Benin.
Girls and boys that do gain a complete primary school education still struggle to continue school into high school. The Benin Education Fund states, “Basic high school expenses exceed $150 per year in a country where the average annual income is less than $700.” As a result, about 50 percent of students end their education after primary school.
More education reforms may be on the way for high school students as the primary education changes have already led to improvements in many fragments of life in Benin. Education propels families out of poverty and protects children from suffering from other human rights violations. In a 2012 article, UNICEF stated that human traffickers, seeking child laborers, often try to bribe children in Benin to leave their villages. Children in impoverished villages may be tempted to leave with a human trafficker as these bribes may sound enticing. Education gives children an opportunity to resist the human traffickers. School teaches children their rights and gives children a path to succeed financially, giving Benin more reasons to further strengthen its education system.
– Jaclyn Ambrecht
Sources: Basic Education Coalition, Benign Education Fund, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, allAfrica, UNICEF 3