In Benin, nearly 1.5 million children are deprived of formal education due to their age, lack of resources, isolation or parents' refusal to send them to school. Since 2011, Helvetas has been supporting the establishment and management of centers where children can catch up on their schooling to acquire basic and life skills.
Back to school
Benin has made great strides in improving access to basic education. However, nearly 1.5 million children have had to drop out of school because they cannot afford it or because their parents need them to work or are unaware of the value of school.
Through the program, Helvetas supports 98 centers in the northeast of the country where young people can make up the schooling they have missed out on. Many of these centers, called barkas, also allow students to learn simple handicrafts that give them an idea of possible vocational training paths after school. Approximately 10,000 out-of-school children, including 6,000 girls, have returned to school.
The barka alternative education centers are firmly rooted in the communities, with the local authorities taking the initiative to set them up and residents helping to build the small school buildings. The recruitment of children from 9 to 15 years old is done by the communities, who are also involved in the management of the centers and the promotion of the project activities.
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. With the support of the community, these schools also organize cultural activities so that the children can learn about local traditions and culture. 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.
In 2019, the barka centers were integrated into the new Education Sector Plan 2019-2030 and have since become part of the official educational offer.
The program has also accompanied Benin in the development of a Strategy for the Reinforcement of Educational Alternatives (SRAE), which should allow for the rapid reschooling of a large number of children who have not completed their education.
Soule Soudick (12), pupil, Benin