Since the coup in April 2012, the interim government of Guinea-Bissau has been struggling to maintain public services, with cuts in state funding for sectors such as health and education. These cuts are largely the result of a withdrawal of budgetary aid from the international community.
The lack of funding is hitting the education sector hard. Already, there have been three strikes among teachers this school year. Speaking to IRIN, a teacher’s union leader explained that his members were walking out from schools because they were not being paid, with some teachers waiting “4–5 months” to receive a salary.
Even when wages are received, there is little or no money for other needs such as teacher training, buildings or school books and equipment. According to the head of the country’s parents’ association “schools are in a deplorable state; there are no desks, roofs are in disrepair and children cannot learn during the rainy season”.
The education minister of the interim government admits that the system is “poorly organised”. He told IRIN that an extensive audit was currently being carried out. The minister hopes that this audit will help to determine the exact numbers of schools and teachers, so the government has a clear idea about the financial needs of the sector. He indicated that the policy of free universal education at primary level may also have to be scrutinised. The minister explained that in a poor country like Guinea-Bissau, which is struggling to train and retain teachers, free education may be a “utopian” ideal.
Currently, around two thirds of children in Guinea-Bissau complete primary school, one of the lowest completion rates in West Africa. Widespread poverty, early marriage for girls and the seasonal reliance on children as agricultural labourers mean that many youngsters drop out. Even when they are able to attend, shortages of learning materials and qualified staff mean the quality of education is often very poor.
With the current unrest in the education sector, the parent’s association of the country (which represents around 10,000 members) has promised to do all it can to support education. For example, using a scheme set up in 2010, the association managed to keep main state schools open and functioning during the recent strikes in some eastern and north-eastern regions. This was done by means of monthly contributions by parents to teachers.