One third of all young people in Benin cannot read or write because they left primary school too early. In the northeast of the country, Helvetas provides support for the planning and running of school centers where young people can make up for missed years of primary school.
The Benin authorities have come to recognize the value of formal education and now spend between 4.5 and 5% of the gross national product (GNP) on school education, about as much as Switzerland. And yet a third of all 15 to 24-year-olds in the country can’t read or write. They left school too early, often because their parents needed them to work or because they failed to appreciate the value of schooling. And girls leave school early far more frequently than boys.
In a project in northeastern Benin, Helvetas provides support for 86 centers, called barkas, where young people can make up the schooling they have missed out on. They can also learn simple manual trades at many of these centers. Over 3,200 pupils are enrolled at these 86 barkas, and 60% of them are girls, an unusually large proportion for a school in Benin.
The school centers are firmly rooted in the communities. The local authorities take the initiative to create a barka, and residents help build a little schoolhouse. The fact that the children are first taught in the local language, then in French, has helped allay the parents’ worries and build their trust. Much of the food served at barka cafeterias is grown in the school vegetable garden. Where necessary, wells are dug and latrines installed at the schools.
Helvetas also draws up teaching aids for further training of the teaching staff, which is an integral part of this project. These schools are not yet counted among the country’s official educational establishments, but they have set some things in motion in Benin. Two ministers in the central government took part in an event to celebrate the project, and the barkas have now been mentioned for the first time in the state’s ten-year-plan for national educational policy.
This project is a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) mandate carried out by Helvetas together with Solidar, another Swiss NGO.
Soule Soudick (12), pupil, Benin