Nouakchott — Prime minister says the country can only tap its labour potential by fixing the Mauritanian educational system.
Recognising deep problems in its education system, the Mauritanian government is moving to improve schooling for the nation's youth in order to prepare them for the work force.
"Many strategies have been devised to develop this sector and raise standards," Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf said on February 3rd during the opening of a four-day education conference in Nouakchott.
"Despite all of these efforts, our education system lacks credibility, with standards slipping and failures to cater to the needs of the labour market; then there are the low standards of teacher training, poor planning and a lack of training and refresher training," he said.
Mauritania's school system "has been incapable of addressing basic development requirements, as well as the hopes and aspirations of the nation", Ould Mohamed Laghdaf added.
Mauritania has enormous labour potential but the country can only tap this through implementing educational reforms, the prime minister said.
He noted a move by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to appoint an "independent committee of experts to oversee the organisation of education and training conferences".
Education Minister Ahmed Ould Bahiya also spoke at the conference and hailed the president's education reform work.
He recognised Ould Abdel Aziz's efforts "to raise standards and improve the contribution made by education in order to meet development needs, reward excellence through the creation of institutions, organising competitions in various sectors and to improve resources and raising teachers' morale".
Education and Training Conference Committee President Hamoudi Ould Hamadi underlined the need to fix the dropout rate, noting that those who leave school early are "not adequately prepared to enter the labour market, resulting in youth unemployment".
About a third of Mauritanian students drop out of school before completing their basic education, Ould Hamadi noted.
The conference ended with participants making several recommendations.
The final draft report included "the need to master Arabic as the official language in order to acquire knowledge, for the purpose of cultural production and as a means of communication".
Another recommendation insisted on the need "to strive to make teaching more dynamic through the quality of education and improved standards and to make the rising generations more aware of the need to stay true to national values and their original culture".
Participants also highlighted "the benefits of fostering the teaching of other national languages, developing them and introducing at least two foreign languages in order to open up to the outside world, take advantage of its experience and learn information and communication techniques".
Teachers and pupils praised the conference's results.
"If the outcomes of this conference are implemented, this will enable us to start afresh on a sound footing," secondary school teacher Mohamed Ould Cheikh said.
"Mauritanian schools are in a very poor state of health and there was an urgent need to undertake certain reforms."
High school student Dia Oumar shared this view.
"I think the desire to change things is good. At the moment, there are many problems and education no longer has any value. So if what was decided is put into practice, Mauritanian schools will benefit greatly," he said.
For his part, Dr. Ely Cheikh Ould Ahmed, a member of an unemployed graduates' organisation, said that "lessons must be learned from the past. Many reforms have been passed, but they have not been implemented, or have been poorly implemented".
"Given the scale of the damage to the education system, I hope the authorities will see the task through to completion," he said.