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Support schooling in Guinea Bissau

Should Guinea Bissau be supported to develop its education system, “without rest“? YES, but why? Guinea Bissau is a country caught between Senegal and Guinea Conakry, two francophone countries. The official language is Portuguese, but the majority of the population speak Crioulo, a Creole and national languages, such as the Balante, Peul …

Brief History of Guinea Bissau

Following an armed struggle led by Amilcar Cabral, Guinea Bissau gained its independence in 1974 and got free from the Portuguese colonization imposed by the Salazar’s regime. Amilcar Cabral has many similarities with the Che, besides a taste for cigars and a certain austerity, he developed a real theory of guerrilla warfare and struggle against colonialism. He placed education at the heart of activities in 1965 and wrote: “If the fight continues to grow, we need to educate ourselves, educate others and the general population.”

He also said “If we had money we would have been a struggle with schools, not with weapons.”… But he was assassinated in January 1973 in Conakry, a few months before independence. Since then, the country has not had a real political stability and a civil war took place in 1999. In March 2009, the President was assassinated and in April 2010 the Prime Minister was briefly arrested by the military forces. As a result, Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the United Nations statistics.

The guerrillero Legacy

Cuba has largely supported the “revolution” in Guinea Bissau, but is ranked 51st in terms of poverty against 173rd for Guinea Bissau. Cuba has been able to develop a performant health and educational system, quantitatively and qualititatively, although we can not verify the modes of production of Cuban statistics…
To get out of colonialism, the Guinean “liberators”  have opted to develop the national language, Crioulo, at the expense of the Portuguese, still the language of instruction. The geography, history and life sciences now account much of the national curriculum and textbooks, as Cabral original goal is “to eliminate gradually the face of bid nature and natural forces, “. The first schools were made of bamboo and some time was devoted to productive work in the fields. We will see that this type of school has not totally disappeared …

Cabo Verde brother

Politically, the country is relatively isolated and skipped away from Cape Verde that has received much of the political elite in the 80s. Torn between the Lusophone and Francophone sphere of influence (its geographical neighbors), Guinea Bissau is not very present in the various meetings and initiatives in Africa. In terms of tourism, Guinea Bissau has nothing to envy in Cape Verde, with its archipelago of Bijagos, but failed to really capitalize on it.

Satellite image of the archipelago of Bijagos
The Scarface Fantasy

Guinea Bissau is often on the headlines for for its coups d’Etat. Its bad reputation of narco state, is making it the appointment of adventurers of all kind. In the capital, there is no electricity, just bad roads and “downtown” is a small square with restaurants where you can cross several kind of people. We do not know who is who and who does what and you do not ask too many questions. A John le Carré’s atmosphere.

However, you don’t usually find any armed military in the streets, people are very welcoming and peaceful, it’s a good place for living. If some 4×4 Hummers, the daily business is far from Scarface movie. The music is omnipresent as the cheap alcohol. Music is excellent and close to that of Cape Verde, propelled  by Cesaria Evora. The cabo zouk dominates and currently Philip Monteiro from Cabo Verde is on the top of the Dakar discos. Listen to Guinean music here. Cabo Verde leads the music and education too.

Some comparisons
Indeed on the educational side, Guinea Bissau is harshly compared to Cabo Verde where over 95% of children complete primary school. But indicators of Guinea Bissau have nothing to envy to the Senegalese statistics, as evidenced by the table below.

Primary completion rate

We will see later that the situation in Guinea Bissau and Senegal are intimately linked. The indicators are calculated in complete disregard of migration flows. Compared to Senegal, Guinea Bissau is doing equal and faces additional challenges. The aftermath of the war but also a fairly high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, causes a significant proportion of orphans and displaced people.

The completion rates of Guinea Conakry are higher, but the political crisis in Conakry will surely slow down the rapid increase in enrollment in recent years, especially with the suspension of international cooperation. The failure of public education services is in turn a factor of instability, it is a vicious circle. Educational issues are largely undervalued as a factor for peace and social construction of a state of law. However, Amilcar Cabral defined training and education as the basis of a successful development. Nowadays, it is noted that many members of the assembly Guinea Bissau are illiterate …

The public sector is badly equipped to develop the education system and the political legacy of the founding fathers seem a bit distant.

The crucial role of NGOs

Handicapped by the weight of military spending and by few little help help from donors (unlike Senegal), the state budget leaves little manover. Education expenditures represent 9% of the budget, against 20% on average in Africa. To meet the social demand, a parallel system supported by NGOs (such as Plan International and Effective Intervention) or UNICEF has been developed. Local communities are involved in recruitment and training of teachers and school construction. The NGOs works mainly in the regions of Bafata and Gabu, where only 20% of children reach the end of primary education according to UNICEF MICS survey. These are the poorest regions of the country where the public schooling faces a quite hostile population for religious and cultural reasons.

The quality of education

Until recently, the payment of salaries of teachers were months behind, triggering strike on strike. Thus, the school years often begin in January or February instead of October, but the support of the World Bank has temporarily stabilized the situation in 2009/2010. The cashew nuts harvest, which uses part of the population during a period of the year and the carnival that does not help. School provision is very limited, lessons are given through rotations in the same classroom (turmas), up to four per day in secondary schools in the capital city. Effective schooling time is very low.
The following picture shows a public school located in a small town, not far from the capital city. The class size is relatively modest, there are tables and textbooks and teachers … The textbooks have been produced by various projects including the Palop (Portuguese-speaking countries) community or come directly from Portugal. There is really no endogenous method of teaching the Portuguese language, but rather a collection of texts. However, the PAIGC (movement of Amilcar Cabral) produced the first textbook of Guinea in December 1964 …

A few miles away, a public school resembles nothing so much as a community school. Despite the sign at the front with sponsors, that has nothing to envy to the Tour de France, the « public » school is poorly equipped.

Female students are busy throwing shoes at each other, while boys work in a field …
Some will see a reminiscence of sessions of productive work, others laisser aller.

Anyway, these schools are not very motivating for the parents who are certainly reluctant to send their children there. Therefore, NGOs have taken over the state in certain regions to ensure a minimum quality standards for the education delivery.

The Talibe of Guinea Bissau

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, which is very shocking, the phenomenon of street children and talibés tends to develop in Guinea Bissau. Read the summary here and the full report here.

If the government of Guinea Bissau did not sign the various conventions on the children rights(unlike in Senegal), local authorities have taken initiatives, which is far from being the case with the neighbors. See my post here which deals with Koranic schools, to be separated from the phenomenon of street children begging.

According to the HRW report, a significant proportion of street children in Dakar actually come from Guinea Bissau and in particular from the regions of Bafata and Gabu. See pages 90-96 of the report.

Child migration map extracted from the HRW report

It’s a good reason to support the education system of Guinea Bissau and offer a credible alternative to child begging and mistreatment.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Norberto Bottani, taken in 2008 during a mission in the country. for Bijagos, blogger for the City Centre Photo taken in April 2010.