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Crowded into a two-tier system

Aminata attends the Ecole Elementaire on Goree, an island off the coast of Senegal. She is 12 and her education ends next year when she reaches the age of 13.

Aminata could be counted as one of Senegal's elite. At her school, near Goree's main tourist attraction, the Maison d'Esclaves, the holding-pen for the slaves transported from West Africa, she has had the chance to acquire her education in classes of fewer than 80.

Fifteen minutes away by boat in the city of Dakar, schools are buckling under the effects of CDF, or classes a double flux, the term used to describe a system of shift teaching that is fast becoming the norm. A directive to headteachers says any class of more than 80 pupils should be divided into two "cohorts", attending school at different times.

At the Pikine Elementary School outside Dakar, which has six classes for children aged seven to 13, the first three years were divided into cohorts in 1990 when numbers rose to more than 110 pupils per class. Now these children attend school on alternate mornings or on alternate afternoons plus Saturday mornings. This adds up to about 20 hours a week in class for each child instead of the 30 hours that those on a normal timetable get.

Of the 738,500 pupils enrolled in Senegal's schools, 265,400 attend on a shift basis. But the enrolments only represent about 50 per cent of the country's children. The government's aim is to create places for 65 per cent of the 3 million children of school age and it says that without the shift system a further 150,000 children a year would be denied a place in school.

Teachers shoulder the pain, and the blame. The National Institute for Educational Studies said in a report on CDF that "as soon as more than 90 per cent of funds allocated to education are taken up by teachers' salaries the shift system becomes an economic necessity". Yet teachers are poorly paid and when they find their over-sized classes split and their hours and workload doubled by CDF, the extra incentive they are offered amounts to little more than Pounds 22 a year, paid annually, in arrears.

The education minister has called for the building of 3,000 new classrooms and the recruitment of an extra 750 teachers a year.

He recently reported that the number of trained teachers has increased by more than 500 and announced free equipment for all shift classes to boost the CDF system.

But the resort to a shift system while training inadequate numbers of new teachers by conventional methods seems to ignore developments using less conventional means in other countries in Africa.

Zimbabwe, for example, faced with similar problems of rapid expansion, set up four-month training courses for groups of para-professional teachers. The strategy was matched by community-based initiatives to create classrooms. The nationwide effort resulted within 18 months in a 200 per cent increase in the number of classrooms, matched by a similar rise in teacher numbers and attendance rates.

The stop-gap approach of the CDF system in Senegal is failing 80 per cent of children who are growing up illiterate and uneducated. It also creates the conditions that perpetuate poverty and exploitation.

In Dakar, parents who have the means are setting up private schools to ensure an education for those who can afford it.

Senegal is an Islamic country and there is a culturally ingrained demand for education. If fee-paying schools were to be part of a strategy to ensure education for all their fees would have to remain under the control of the local community while government funds were concentrated on overcoming the problems of the poorest.

Poverty in Senegal confronts the visitor as much as anywhere else in Africa. In a country that has traditionally been seen as a recreation ground of the French, the Club Mediterranee has set out its villas, its golf courses, its marina and its private beach while the cardboard and sacking shelters of the city's dispossessed are propped against the outside of the high perimeter wall.

A recent United Nations report said that the amount spent per pupil in schools in the sub-Saharan African countries between 1980 and 1990 fell by 7 per cent.

The very low level of spending on education means poorly supported teachers struggling along without adequate funds for basic materials and contributes to the growing numbers of young adults in Africa who lack any basic eduation.

The lion's share of aid for education goes to secondary and higher education. In countries like Senegal, where huge resources need to be channelled into the education of the very young, international help is not at hand.

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