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[Senegal] Pre-school education in Senegal


Since 2000 Senegal has been making efforts to protect and nurture infants with measures including the introduction of national development policies for infants and the establishment of new pre-school institutions. Senegal’s official pre-school educational institutions are divided into 4 categories: public-run kindergartens, private kindergartens/nurseries, Community Centres and Children’s Huts. In particular, Children’s Huts, which were newly introduced after 2000, are run on a local community basis and aim to provide holistic pre-school education such as infant education, health and hygiene and nutritional management.

Africa, Senegal, ECCE, Pre-school education, Health, Hygiene, Nutrition, Community

>> Basic Data of Senegal flags of Senegal.jpg

1. The outline of the Republic of Senegal

Senegal is situated at the western edge of the African continent. Its capital city is Dakar which is located on the Atlantic coast. Senegal covers a land area of almost 197,000 square kilometres (roughly half of Japan) with 25% categorised as arid while 70% is semi-arid. During the cool season (December to April), the average highest and lowest temperatures in Dakar are 26°C and 17°C, respectively, and during the hot season (May to November), 30°C and 20°C. Senegal has a population of about 13 million consisting of ethnic groups such as Wolof (44%), Ful (Peul, 23%) and Serer (15%).The official language is French with ethnic languages such as Wolof also used. The main religion is Islam with 95% of the population Muslim, 5%, Christian, followed by traditional religions (Tanabe 1998; The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2013a). It is estimated that 34% of the population live below the poverty line on less than $1.25 a day; the infant mortality rate is 50 per 1000 and child mortality rate (under 5 years old), 85 per 1000*1(UNESCO 2012).

The main industries are agriculture and fishery with Dakar being the centre for export/import as one of the biggest ports in Africa. Although the economy has been growing relatively steadily thanks to initiatives such as austerity measures, structural adjustment and privatisation following a devaluation of the currency CFA in 1994, commodity prices are on an upward trend due to the surge in oil price in recent years (Tanabe1998; The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2013a).

The Casamance region in the southwest has been seeing repeated armed conflicts since 1982 between the government and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) which seeks separation and independence. However, except for this, Senegal is basically safe, although mass demonstrations by citizens can break out depending on the political and economic situation. In fact, conflicts between the security forces and the residents of Dakar city have recently broken out following a protest and road blockage by the residents. These were caused by the disruption of water supply to the northern part of Dakar city for the past 20 days (as of October 2, 2013) due to water leakage (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2013b; RFI2013).


2. Education in Senegal

Senegal's education system is based on the French model introduced under French colonial rule. Since the colonial era, Senegal has been the centre of education in the French West African region and has been accepting a large number of students from West African countries since its independence in 1960. There are also many students from Senegal who go to France to study.

In 1991, a fundamental education law (Loi no 91-22 du 30 janvier 1991 d'orientation de l'Education nationale) was established and the law's amendment in 2004 (Loi 2004-37 du 15 décembre 2004) stipulated compulsory education to be 10 years from elementary to secondary schools. Compulsory education at public-run schools is free. Education is based on a system of "6 - 4 - 3" (years) from elementary education starting at the age of seven, to upper secondary education. However, as in France, because a repeat year system is applicable from the elementary education stage, students' ages in any one grade are not necessarily the same. The net school enrolment rate in 2010 was 75% (boys: 73%, girls: 78%) with a 50% adult literacy rate aged 15 and over (UNESCO 2012). In principle, French is the only language used to teach at school from grade one of elementary education with local languages introduced only on a trial basis.

In Senegal, ministries and agencies are often reorganised. A notice issued in 2010 (Décret 2010-1356 du 6 octobre) established the Ministry of Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education, and National Languages; Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training; and Ministry of Higher Education, Regional University Centres and Scientific Research " were continuously stipulated as the ministries governing education (UNESCO 2010). Also, as in many other developing countries, a 10-year education training plan (PDEF: Programme Decennal de l'Education et de la Formation), which aims to improve the state of education, has been drawn up. The objective of the 10-year plan beginning in 2000 was improvement of access to education, quality of education, and management. As a result of addressing these issues, the enrolment rate for elementary education is considered to have increased sharply in 2011. In 2012, a new education plan (Programme de Développment de l'Education et de la Formation 2012-2025) was drawn up, which included the reorganisation of the departments. However, the management of public-run schools is facing some challenges such as the long-term closure of schools due to strikes by teachers protesting unpaid salaries.

3. Senegal's policies for pre-school education

In 1990, the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) was adopted by international organisations such as UNESCO and UNICEF with the aim of completely universalising elementary education on a global scale, particularly in developing countries. Accordingly, developing countries have been promoting initiatives to spread education by the declaration's target year of 2015. In 2000, the World Education Forum was held in Dakar organised by international organisations (UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and the World Bank) and adopted the "Dakar Framework for Action" which stipulates six specific goals for achieving EFA.

Following this move, Senegal began earnest efforts to achieve the goals set in the "Dakar Framework for Action". President Wade (Abdoulaye WADE; 1926- ), inaugurated in 2000, carried out large-scale educational reform, making it the top national priority to improve ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education), which was stipulated as the first goal in Dakar Framework for Action. In addition, a reorganisation of concerned departments was carried out including the establishment of the Ministry of Family and Small Children (Ministère de la Famille et de la Petite Enfance, 2001) and the National Agency for Small Children and the Children's Huts (Agence nationale de la petite enfance et de la case des tout-petits, 2004). Pre-school education in Senegal is governed by the National Agency for Small Children and the Children's Huts, and the Section of Small Children which belongs to the Ministry of Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education, and National Languages (ROCARE 2010). In 2007, Senegal joined the "Early Childhood Policy Review Project," jointly run by UNESCO and OECD, to further improve the living conditions for infants. This project's objective is to make and implement better policies by re-analysing each nation's infant policies. Senegal was the first officially French-speaking nation to join this program. In the same year, the "National Development Policy for Small Children" (Politique National de Développement Intégré de la Petite Enfance) was also introduced and has been strongly promoting the ECCE policy.

Thanks to all these initiatives, enrolment rate in pre-school education increased from 3% (boys, 3%; girls, 3%) in 1999 to 13% (boys, 12%, girls, 14%) in 2010 (UNESCO 2012). However, considering the total number of infants, pre-school education is still underused. Furthermore, 65% of pre-school educational institutions are concentrated in urban areas (FASTEF, UCAD 2013), making it a challenge to make pre-school education accessible for the rural population. Another concern is that accessibility to pre-school education is also determined by each family's economic situation, making it available to only relatively affluent families.

4. Pre-school education and initiatives

Childcare in Senegal has traditionally been based on informal and mutual help in which women with time to spare help other women who are busy with housework, etc. Pre-school education by a specific institution originated in the late 19th century when Franciscan nuns arrived in Senegal and began educating children. After that, several other Christian missionaries undertook infant education, leading the way to the establishment of private pre-school educational institutions.

At present, official pre-school educational institutions in Senegal can be roughly divided into four categories depending on how they are run: public-run kindergartens, private kindergartens/nurseries, Community Centres and Children's Huts*2.

(1) Public-run kindergartens
The first public-run kindergarten in Senegal was established in 1965. Pupils, mostly between three to six years old*3, are divided into youngest, medium and oldest groups and are looked after from 8 am to 1 pm. Children are taught in local languages, particularly Wolof, but the oldest group also learn French. The role of public-run kindergartens is to prepare children for elementary education. At kindergartens, including private ones, subjects such as writing letters and numbers, singing, drawing, dancing and physical exercises are taught, enabling pupils who have completed kindergarten to enter elementary school at the age of six instead of the official entry age of seven.

Qualification as a teacher in a public-run kindergarten requires training for a certain period of time, depending on education level, and passing an examination. There are two kinds of qualifications. One is CEAP (Certificat Elémentaire d'Aptitudes Pédagogiques [Basic Certificate for Pedagogical Aptitude]) which is given to those who have completed the lower secondary education and the other is CAP (Certificat d'Aptitudes Pédagogique [Certificate for Pedagogical Aptitude]) given to those who completed the upper secondary education and have Baccalauréat. However, not many kindergarten teachers are officially qualified, with only 17.3% of all public-run kindergarten teachers holding CEAP and 19.3% holding CPA in 2009 (ROCARE 2010).

(2) Private kindergartens and nurseries
Prior to the establishment of public-run kindergartens, the first private pre-school educational institution was set up in 1920. Today, private institutions include religious establishments, such as Catholic and Franco-Arab*4, and non-religious establishments. Private institutions are the most numerous (see Figure 1) of all the pre-school educational institutions across the four categories and account for more than 50% of pre-school pupils (UNESCO 2009). Private kindergartens and nurseries are established mainly in urban areas where populations are concentrated.

Figure 1 The Ratio of Pre-school Educational Institutions in Senegal (total 1,239 institutions, 2006)
Public-run kindergartens Private kindergartens and nurseries Community Centres Children's Huts
Percentage of the number of establishments in each category out of total 21.1% 53.2%
(Catholic 6.9%, Franco-Arab 9.7%, non-religious 36.6%)
5.9% 19.8%
Percentage of the number of pupils in each category out of total 24.5% 53.8% 21.7%
Percentage of the number of establishments in rural areas in each category 53% 17%
(Catholic 30%, Franco-Arab 27%, non-religious 11%)
ND 74%※※

Source:UNESCO (2009)
Note:※No data available ※※Data in 2007. 74% includes centres still under construction, without these the percentage is 59%.

Private kindergartens and nurseries basically accept children aged between three and six as in public-run kindergartens. The legal difference between kindergartens and nurseries lies in the teacher training. Teachers working for kindergartens are required to have received teacher training while requirements for formal training for nursery teachers are more relaxed. However in reality, the difference between kindergartens and nurseries is not significant (UNESCO 2009).

There are no strict regulations governing the establishment of a private pre-school educational institution. The only requirement according to the 1994 law for setting up a private kindergarten or nursery is an application in advance. This, however, does not mean the standard of educational service is low. On the contrary, Catholic kindergartens in particular are reported to offer a high standard of education (UNESCO 2009; FASTEF, UCAD 2013).

The language used in private pre-school education had typically been French but since the mid 1980's, local languages have also been introduced (SYLLA 1991).

(3) Community Centres
Community Centres are set up in local communities and in many cases run with the support of cooperating organisations such as NGOs. The establishment of Community Centres began in the 1990's but Senegal has not yet to see many built. Staff members at Community Centres are not required to have any particular qualifications and they are mostly volunteers involved with NGOs. The accepted ages of children vary from Centre to Centre. Some accept children aged between zero and two (mother's presence is required) while others may accept children aged three to six or zero to six. While public-run kindergartens and private pre-school educational institutions only accept infants aged three and older, Community Centres take in infants aged two or younger, including infants. In terms of accepted ages of the children, public-run kindergartens and private pre-school educational institutions in Senegal are similar to Japanese kindergartens while Community Centres and Children's Huts, which will be discussed in detail in the next section, resemble Japanese day care centres.

Each Community Centre offers different activities. For example, since 1999, Plan Senegal has been running Community Centres in five areas including Dakar providing fundamental education to infants between three and six years of age using teaching materials focused chiefly on health and nutrition.

(4) Children's Huts (La Case de Tout-Petits : CTP)
The establishment of Children's Huts began in 2000 in response to the ECCE policies newly adopted as the nation's top priority. Children's Huts take in children aged between zero and six with the ultimate aim of universalising elementary education and improving the enrolment rate. The Children's Huts are community-based pre-school educational facilities belonging to the National Agency for Small Children and the Children's Huts and run by kindergarten teachers, instructors who have received training at a teacher training institution, children's mothers and grandmothers as well as religious leaders. In contrast to public-run kindergartens and private pre-school educational institutions which are concentrated in urban areas, the establishment of Children's Huts is encouraged in rural areas and other areas which suffer from the lack of kindergartens and nurseries. Most of the Children's Huts buildings are formed in a hexagonal shape consisting of two nursery rooms, a kitchen, a medical room, a temporary toilet, a garden, an office and a pantry room. However, the extent of each Hut's facilities, such as equipment and resources, varies, with only 61% of all centres provided with cooking equipment while as few as 41% are equipped with medical materials (UNESCO 2009).

Children's Huts work on the following three areas: education, health and nutrition. For education, centres offer basic pre-school learning and activities involving traditional culture. For health and hygiene, they provide health check-ups and treatment by instructors and health workers. As for nutrition, they train instructors on nutritional management for infants and expecting/nursing mothers in addition to providing well-balanced healthy meals prepared by mothers. The Children's Huts are characterised by the multiple roles they play such as offering health and nutritional management for infants and expecting/nursing mothers on top of providing pre-school education. These functions overlap with those offered by NGO-run Community Centres. However, with Children's Huts' operation supported by concerned ministries and agencies of the Senegal government, UNESCO, UNICEF, JICA and international aid organisations, they are able to offer activities larger in scale and scope than Community Centres.

5. Outlook of pre-school education in Senegal

Pre-school education in Senegal is not without problems, such as the large number of unqualified teachers in public-run kindergartens and the lack of regulations concerning the establishment of private kindergartens and teacher training systems. However, as it was only after 2000 that earnest efforts for pre-school education began, the most important thing to do at this early stage must be to make pre-school education available to a wider range of areas and social classes.

Private kindergartens and nurseries have been playing an important role in Senegal's pre-school education in terms of history and scale. Since French is used in private pre-school education, it is considered to have been helpful in children's smooth shift to elementary education and the improvement of learning efficiency at elementary school, as French is the only language used in elementary education in Senegal (although how to treat children's mother tongue remains an issue). On the other hand, children in rural areas where private pre-school education is not sufficiently available, children in urban areas whose family are not fluent in French, and children in poor families find it difficult to have access to private pre-school education, and therefore there is a danger that this can lead to disparity in education.

Children's Huts introduced after 2000 are holistic institutions that take care of not only pre-school education but also health and nutritional issues mainly in rural areas. Because of this characteristic, Children's Huts are considered to serve as a foothold to pre-school education for the population which has so far been distanced, both mentally and geographically, from public-run kindergartens and private pre-school education. With an increased enrolment rate in elementary education being the Children's Huts' ultimate goal, they are expected to play a supplementary role in public-run kindergartens in the future, redressing the current heavy dependence on the private sector for pre-school education. However, Children's Huts are not without problems, such as the procurement of enough equipment and resources, the lack of a system to collaborate with local communities, and most importantly, the Huts' operational independence. As education programs in developing countries tend to rely on foreign aid, it is a big challenge for Children's Huts to be able to operate without outside support on a long term-basis. In any case, pre-school education in Senegal is still developing and its future progress needs to be carefully observed.


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*1 The Sub-Saharan African averages for these rates are 48%, 77% and 85% respectively (UNESCO 2012).
*2 In addition to these, there are also a few private crèches. Also, as Senegal's main religion is Islam, many parents send their children to unofficial Koranic schools called daaras. Daaras accept a wide range of age groups, mainly from the age of three to the early teens. In daaras, the education is focused on the recitation of Koran, but the doctrine and knowledge of Islamic religion are also taught through cohabitation with religious leaders.
*3 Children outside of this age range can be occasionally accepted.
*4 Franco-Arab kindergartens are official pre-school educational institutions which teach elementary Koran in addition to offering normal infant education.


Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) affiliated with the National Institute for Educational Policy Research. Previously studied at the Graduate School of Education, Waseda University.