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talibés dans la rue à Dakar

Koranic schooling in Senegal


Please note : When (FR) is specified after a link, the reference documents or pages are in French, otherwise in English.

The Koranic schools is a controversial issue, but research in education can serve to calm down the debate. The Koranic school and pupils, talibés, are an inescapable social fact in Senegal. Despite their high visibility they has long been overshadowed by discussions on development aid and thus receive little support from donors and supervision from national authorities.

Several approaches can be followed to address this issue: Statistical  and economic, right-based, moral or by following the pedagogical  path … All are equal, but the western media privileged the moral  aspect. The work of Dan Wagner (Indigenous Education and Literacy  Learning) and Pierre Andre & Jean-Luc DEMONSANT (Koranic  schools in Senegal: a real barrier to formal education?) used  extensively in this post allow us to go a little further. The central  question is whether the Koranic schooling is genuinely opposed to a      formal education system inherited from colonialism.

In February 2010, the Senegalese government issued a decree (FR) on the recognition of Koranic schools in the country, that was welcomed by Amnesty International. So far, few administrative or legislative texts relates to this issue, according to a brief review of the Senegalese Journal Officiel (FR) online. This is a first step towards a better grip of this type of teaching and schools by the government.  

For many years there was a clear distinction between the formal education system, the “French schools” and Koranic schools, or “a state system institutionally dichotomized in public and religious.” For a description of Islamic education in Africa, see Cahiers d ‘Etudes Africaines (FR).

Within the Ministry of Education, a service of the Franco-Arab education is officiating. But the “franco-arab” schools are supposed to follow the national curriculum while also introducing national courses in Arabic and religious education. They must be distinguished from Koranic schools strictly designed to teach the Koran.

The number of Franco-Arab schools are counted in official statistics, but the Senegalese government wanted to see talibés enrolment in education indicators. In reality, no administrative statistics is available on the koranic schooling and the household surveys or even child labor surveys do not provide the necessary information. Estimates from NGOs vary from simple to triple.

If the teaching of Islamic schools is at the origin aiming the knowledge of religious texts, it has sometimes diverted to highly criticized practices of throwing children into the streets to beg. See here (FR) a few stories. Moreover, talibés must often give every evening a minimum amount of money to Marabout teachers otherwise under pain of corporal punishment. At 200 CFA francs per day, a Marabout who teach thirty talibés earns 30 * 30 * 2 = 180 000Fcfa per month, equivalent to a salary of a teacher in the public sector, from which we must deduct the cost of food students and school expenses. In a completely liberal education system this seek for profit is the effect of an absence of regulation and strong social demand for koranic schooling, which is a free good for households. Reflection on this matter must be continued.

In terms of international law, it is simply exploitation and a form of “child labor in hazardous conditions” or harmfull as defined by the International Labor Organization and is covered by the Convention 182 signed by Senegal. See ILO web site for child labor statistics.

But again, the child labor statistical surveys (FR) does not provide us with all necessary information on the phenomenon: “The frame does not include children living in daaras (Koranic schools ) or makeshift houses, among others. The identification was made of children from households. This would affect in some measure the magnitude of child labor because the frame is thus underestimated”.

But it would be possible to consider area-sampling methods at least in Dakar and its suburbs. The subject of work and exploitation of children is relatively taboo. PLAN NGO in Togo have experienced some problems when publishing a report on the issue, but it is available on the Internet (FR). It is related in part to the practice of fostering children, out of the household. However, the link between this ancient custom and the exploitation of children is not systematic, the primary goal being the education of children. Browse jobs by Marc Pilon (FR).Economic constraints mean that some parents cannot afford to support their offspring and confide them in another household or a school / institution. In times not so long ago in France, we observed the same phenomena, there was Victor Hugo’s Cosette, now Fatou. But it is also for some parents a way to invest in education, by “giving” the child to a household easier. The host family will use children for domestic work while issuing him an education, which even if not in an institution, may be better than the one he would have received in the household of origin. There are thus different practices.

For some, the wandering and begging in the streets is good training for later life, given the high rates of youth unemployment, one cannot deny. For others it is a factory of offenders and potential terrorists, hordes of jihadists. Again, such statements have to be taken with caution. International terrorists like those of September 11 have had advanced studies, they were sometimes introduced to religion late in life. In the Middle Ages, all students who attended school from Catholic fathers do not all turn into great inquisitors. Again on the current practice of teaching by the Catholic fathers, there is much to say.

The moral question is legitimate, but despite the international conventions, it has a variable geometry. In fact, some current practices in Senegal and elsewhere, are a enlargement or dilatation of practices that took over in the West, not so long. In Asia, including Burma, all young people must go through a Buddhist teaching which is not far removed from practice of the Koranic school. The monks are begging with bowls all day long, while memorizing sacred texts and performing household chores in the temples. Buddhism following great vehicle mode is not very fun neither. But no one is offended.

Asceticism is the foundation of most religions, prophets roll rarely in Hummer. Pedagogically, again the methods of corporal punishment and the belt blows are the basis of any school, whether Roman, Greek, Christian, Buddhist or Islamic. Browse jobs from Dan Wagner.

On the Roman school (wikipedia): “Teachers are badly paid by the fathers of students. They are quite authoritarian with students. They fought through a wooden rod, the rod, or even strips of leather. Teaching is based on the heart and through imitation and the pace is relatively slow. “. In Africa, we use the term “chicote” that comes from the Portuguese whip. View this article (FR) or this one (FR) on the use of the “chicote”.
See especially the discussion on the Facebook profile of President Yayi Boni (FR) of Benin.

Not until mid-twentieth century thought and practices have really evolved in the West on teaching methods. Certainly, there are some deviations in Senegal, see the broadcats of Thalassa or RFI (FR), which caused much debate, but there are also modern Koranic schools (FR).

In Senegal, the Marabout are said to host significant spiritual and magic powers. In the holy city of Touba, the Caliph General of the Mourides (a fraternity) has banned the “French schools”. It is a sociological pattern, some parents do not wish in any way that their children go to the “French school”. The “indigenous school” is not likely to disappear and the systems of formal and informal education must coexist. Until now it has been neglected by aid policies and development funders but there are new evolutions.

The United States Ambassador to Senegal recently said (FR): “We plan to put some 4,000 scholarships in institutes and schools to support these teachings but also English books and videotapes to support the Koranic teaching and learning of English.
We seek to convince our government to help Islamic institutions and build new ones.

Senegal is very influential internationally and generally concentrates all the initiatives and pilot projects in francophone Africa, the diplomatic corps is walking on eggshells . Unless this is an opportunity for a switch to Senegal in the teaching of English rather than French through Koranic schooling. In fact, it is simply to support the Government in the framework of Koranic education, see no evil everywhere …

The decree taken by the Senegalese authorities is a first step towards the regulation and funding of these schools and the inclusion of Koranic education in development policies. In terms of investment or initial bet, the Koranic school is just a few dollars: a room, Korans, shelves. It remains to discuss whether this is a real barrier to formal education and if this is not a lever for acquiring reading and numeracy skills other than the knowledge of the Koran.

On the first point and a paper entitled Koranic Schools in Senegal: a real barrier to formal education, Pierre Andre & Jean-Luc DEMONSANT, researchers, sheds new light. The role of educational research is to clarify the debate, taking a little distance, but the reason is often opposed to religion and the topic is as thorny acacia. But in the eye of a polytechnician (french MIT) with fitted data, everything becomes clearer. Out of respect for their work, I’d settle for copy pasting the abstract of the paper.

“The public education systems in the Sahelian countries do not teach religious education, which is issued by the informal sector. This article is a first attempt to study quantitatively how the education system works in two dimensions and whether potential competition is a key factor in low primary enrollment rates in Senegal. The analysis is based on a single set of national data on 1800 households, with detailed information on formal and Koranic children 5 to 21 years.

In our sample, more than half of girls and 60% of boys attend Koranic school for at least a year, although most of them stay for only two to three years. We present a brief background on Islam and the Koranic schools in Senegal to provide a better understanding of the complexity of the topic. We then examine the determinants of the Koranic school before studying its compatibility with formal education.

A descriptive analysis shows that children who attend Koranic school for several years, were more likely to attend formal primary school than those who did not attend the Koranic school at all and those who are studying the Koran long. To identify the substitution between the madrassas and the French school, we use a strategy based on the instrumental opening of schools formelles.Nos IV estimates show that the substitution effect dominates in boys. This substitution shows without doubt that the two school careers are considered relevant educational choice by choosing some Senegalese households, and that there is competition between schools and formal Koranic education in Senegal. While the establishment of formal schools are changing the enrollment decisions, the choice of a full-time education in Koranic schools is probably due to the poor quality of education in formal schools. Therefore, improving the quality of Koranic education could improve formal schooling.

The existence of Koranic teaching full-time could be in part a signal indicating the poor quality of formal schooling, but also reflects real preferences for religious education. The preferences of some households for Quranic education could therefore hinder the development of formal primary education, even if the quality of teaching was really good. The potential existence of these aspirations household raises the question of an integrated education system to facilitate a balance between the two types of education. ”

The article engages sophisticated econometric techniques and provide substantial evidence for understanding Koranic schooling but does not cover all aspects of this complex phenomenon. This is not a criticism, but if the two types of education live in “the mind of the households”, they also share the field. Indeed, in Dakar and the suburbs there is a real problem of urbanism (it’s a peninsula) and many public schools have no real wall or fence bounding and are running in double shift. The rhythm of authorization of private schools approved by the State is slow and there is a fertile ground for the multiplication of Daraa (Koranic schools). See the works of the Education Project in the suburbs of Dakar.

One should further explore what is the effect of schooling in Koranic schools on the skills covered by the national curriculum, as did a study from UNICEF. Does being enrolled in daaras a few years lead to learn to read, write and count in French or another language more easily? Learning the Quran is first learning Arabic, which is a complex language. The Wolof, the language spoken in Senegal contains many words borrowed from Arabic, like the Spanish, the pronunciation of both languages are relatively close. In terms of cognitive skills, memorizing the book can reinforce skills. PASEC had attempted to measure the impact of knowledge of the suras and hijab on the achievements of the school curriculum, in Mauritania. International assessments such PASEC and EGRA and national studies or could address this issue or secondary analysis could be conducted.
Exchanges of experience between Senegal and some Arab countries (see the work of Dan Wagner) who completed the integration of different forms of education could also be a solution to ensure improved living conditions for children and people.

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  1. Here are the measures taken by the Gambian authorities in Madrassa (a country whitin Senegal).
    Government here has taken its responsabilities.

    “The madrassa support programme consists of providing English teachers, instructional materials
    and participation in the school feeding programme to registered madrassas that synchronize their
    programmes with the national curriculum. This programme has been highly successful. About
    149 registered madrassas participate in the programme, double the number initially planned.
    Between 2004 and 2006/07, madrassas accounted for 65% of the enrolment increase in lower
    basic schools, and the madrassas now account for an estimated 16% of lower basic school
    enrolment, up from 10% a decade earlier, and the majority of this increase is in madrassas that
    have synchronized with the national curriculum.
    The madrassa programme has made a particularly significant impact in Regions 5 and 6 where,
    between 2000 and 2006, the madrassas boosted the lower basic GER from 66% to 87% in
    Region 5 and from 47% to 73% in Region 6. However the programme was not without hitches.
    Many English teachers posted to the madrassas were confronted with an unfamiliar environment
    and were concerned about mobility.
    To address this problem, DOSBSE switched from directly posting teachers to providing the
    financial resources to the madrassas to recruit their own teachers.7As a result of this programme,
    some madrassas are sponsoring their untrained (Koranic) teachers to enrol in the Gambia
    College’s teacher certification programme, thereby facilitating horizontal and upward mobility.
    Given the important role the madrassas play in providing education, this medium term plan will
    aim to harmonize grant-in-aid policies and strengthen support and supervision. In addition,
    EGRA and NAT will also be introduced in the madrassas. Grades 9 and 12 examinations will be
    standardized and administered by WAEC. The core textbooks of mathematics, science and social
    and environmental studies will be translated in to Arabic and will be provided together with
    English textbooks to all officially recognized madrassas.”

    See the Education plan at :
    page 22