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Removing barriers to children attending school in Senegal

In Senegal, the government has focused on improving education by setting up state-funded nurseries and providing free universal access to schooling; despite this, only around three-quarters of children are enrolled at primary school.

In rural areas, parents sometimes decide it’s too far for their children to walk to the nearest school, or simply that they can’t afford it. In poor families, children are often needed to help out with household chores and farming work. But even when parents want their children to attend school, there can be other barriers.

For example, birth certificates are needed for enrolling children in school and to register them for exams. However, across some rural areas, communities are extremely remote from the nearest civil registration centres and it’s therefore common for families not to register the birth of their children. Some parents feel unable to take the time out to leave their smallholdings for the journey. Poor families also find the cost a deterrent, with birth certificates costing 0.60 dollars. Therefore even when children from rural communities attend nursery or pre-school, they are unable to sit for the necessary sixth-grade exams to continue schooling, if they don’t have a birth certificate.

Now a Swiss non-governmental organisation (NGO), Aide et Action, has introduced a texting system in a pilot programme taking place in the remote southern region of Kolda. A mobile phone application allows parents to send the details of their newborn to a government registrar in a text message. The cost of the text is tiny and the information on the child can then be stored digitally in a central government server. One local registrar taking part in the trial system told the news agency IRIN that using the new technology “reduces the distance, time and money” and solves the problem of travelling for hard-pressed farmers and their families. Since the pilot began, four-fifths of births in the region have been registered, many more than previously.

With around two-thirds of Kolda’s people illiterate, regional officials and the NGO are hoping the programme will prove successful in the long term. This will need the texting system to be legally recognised as a method of birth registration. With the removal of at least one main barrier to education, those involved hope more Senegalese families will be encouraged to register their children and send them to school in the future.

Laurinda Luffman signature