Senegal / Education: “Quality must be ensured as children arrive to school,” UN expert says

DAKAR (14 January 2011) – “Senegal has achieved important advances in access to primary schools over the last decade; however, as children finally arrive to the class room, quality of education must be ensured,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Kishore Singh, at the end of his first visit to the country.

“Without well trained and motivated teachers, without access to adequate pedagogical materials and without any capacity to teach in mother tongue languages at primary levels, the impact of increased enrollment will be limited,” the independent human rights expert said.

In his view, great challenges still lay ahead: “Senegal played a leading role in the promotion of international commitments to ensure the right to education. Nevertheless, slightly less than half of the Senegalese population is literate and an important number of children remain out of school,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur sharing some of his preliminary findings at a press conference in Dakar.

During his visit to the country, Mr. Singh met with various Government authorities in the education sector, international organizations and NGOs, and visited Senegalese schools and daaras (Quranic schools) both in the capital and in the rural area. “Despite efforts to build new schools, infra-structure is still inadequate and class rooms are overcrowded in many places,” he said, noting that private schooling is on the rise and abusive business practices appear as an emerging concern. “Authorities have the duty to held private schools accountable for malpractices and preserve public interest in education.”

“The important proportion of recent State budget allocations to education indicates Senegal’s recognition of the right to education. Yet, permanent attention is required to ensure resources are well targeted and timely spent. Enhanced investment in social protection schemes would help to avoid marginalized children being deprived of any education.” The Special Rapporteur also called for an increased support to technical schooling: “The proportion of resources allocated to technical schools is meager. With more support these establishments may play an important role broadening work opportunities for many Senegalese.”

Mr. Singh was briefed on the efforts of the Government to modernize daaras and indicated his concern with the situation of children who are exposed to insalubrious conditions and obliged to beg when enrolled in some of these establishments. “There is no excuse for the exploitation of children. This is not only unacceptable according to human rights standards but is also incompatible with all religious values. Children must be protected and a framework must be in place to ensure all daaras comply with human rights standards.”

The independent expert drew special attention to the challenges faced by girls in schools. “Senegal achieved gender parity at primary levels, but girls are not having the same progression as boys at higher levels – early marriage and pregnancies, domestic work, abusive teachers are all serious concerns that can contribute to take girls out of schools.”

Mr. Singh also stressed that complain mechanisms must be established to detect any violence or abuse in educational environments: “Schools must offer truly safe learning environments, students and their families must have access to support and remedy whenever their rights are violated.”

“Education is a fundamental human right”, concluded Singh. “Protection mechanisms must be available in case of any violation.”

The Special Rapporteur will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council describing the main findings of his mission to Senegal and providing recommendations on the improvement of the situation of the right to education in the country.

Kishore Singh is the Special Rapporteur on the right to education since August 2010. He is an Indian professor specialized in international law, who has worked for many years with UNESCO for the promotion of the right to education, and advised a number of international, regional and national entities on right to education issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Singh has supported the development of the right to education in its various dimensions and worked to better understanding this right as an internationally recognized right.

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