23 July 2014

Gambia: 20 Years of Consistent Investment in Gambia's Education Sector

The Gambia's Education sector, like others, has for the past two decades witnessed massive transformation thanks to the numerous reforms embarked upon by the Jammeh Administration in the sector.

Since the advent of the July 22nd Revolution, The Gambia has shifted the focus of her education system from school attendance to relevant and quality education for students.

Aware of the existence of a few schools at different levels, the regime crafted an ambitious agenda that saw the proliferation of schools across the length and breadth of the country. This is in line with the government's objective of not only making education attractive and qualitative, but to move it closer to the doorsteps of every Gambian.

It is also in line with the fact that building strong education systems that promote learning is fundamental to development and economic growth. Over the past 20 years, The Gambia's Basic and Secondary Education Ministry has crafted and put in place various quality education policies and institutions for the advancement of the sector. Today, thanks to the expansion agenda, The Gambia's student population has hit nearly 350,000 according to estimates. "The country's lower basic school completion rates have increased from 39 percent in 1992 to 66 percent in 2011, an expansion that mainly benefited girls," according to a research conducted by Ousmane Senghor, a senior programme officer at The Gambia National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Among the strategies of the government in this area is the expansion of basic education from six to nine years, apparently meant to eliminate the barriers to the completion of primary education. The Ministry has over the years also introduced a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure that teaching and learning are standardised. It focused on the development of a strong student assessment system and the effective use of assessment data. Moving away from what used to prevail, The Gambia Lower Basic and Upper Basic Schools (Grades 1-9):

Modification Until 2002, primary education lasted for six years and led to the Primary School Leaving Certificate (phased out). But this changed that year and a new unified basic education system was introduced covering 1-9 years, through an automatic transition with no examination at the end of the lower basic cycle. The system is divided into two cycles: lower basic (Grades 1-6) and upper basic (Grades 7-9). Secondary education was divided into two - junior secondary school, which offered a three-year course leading to the Junior School Leaving Certificate, and Senior Secondary School which offered a three-year course, leading to the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate.

The APRC government has also introduced another type of school system called the basic cycle school, which is a combination of the lower and upper basic school (grades 1-9). All Gambian students sit to The Gambia Basic Education Certificate Examination (GABECE) at the end of grade in nine subjects. Admission to senior secondary school is competitive, but statistics show that the vast majority of Gambian students attend government schools. There is a growing number of private and international private secondary schools in the country offering Cambridge IGCSE/ O Levels or the WASSCE.

It cannot be less underscored here that the system of Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination had proved to be effective even though with some disadvantages. In response to the demands of parents and communities to reinstall the PSLCE, the Ministry introduced two new assessments that monitor learning to replace it: The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) was introduced in 2007 and the National Assessment Test (NAT) in 2008. These assessments marked a big step in The Gambia's education system, and for the first time, assessment data were used to monitor learning rather than to determine individual consequences. Regular background data on students, teachers, and schools also started to be collected, allowing for a better understanding of the variables that affect learning. These data permitted deeper analyses of assessment information, moving the focus from a simple count of passes and failures to policy analysis.

The purpose of the National Assessment Test (NAT) is to provide a picture of student learning achievement in the core subject areas of the national curriculum in lower basic education. This census is taken annually by all students in grades 3, 5, and 8 in government, private, grant aided, and Islamic (madrassa) schools. School results are made publicly available at the national, regional, cluster, and school levels.

The test was first piloted in 2001, following the phasing out of examinations in grade 6, and was deployed nationwide in 2008. In 2012, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education introduced the NAT in grade 8 to better monitor learning achievements at the upper level of basic education. The test blueprint is aligned with the learning achievement targets of the national curriculum. In grade 3, NAT assesses students in three subject areas: mathematics, English, and integrated studies. In grade 5, it assesses students in four subject areas: mathematics, English, science, and social and environmental studies. Teacher training

The low student learning levels made educators to cast doubt on teachers' competence and skills. In fact, a teacher survey conducted in 2010 showed that many teachers did not have the required knowledge and skills to boost student learning. As a consequence, a nationwide training of all primary school teachers was launched. The curriculum of the country's teacher training college (The Gambia College) was revised to ensure that teachers learn relevant teaching skills. Teachers are now trained to use literacy benchmarks and learning achievement targets.

"One of the threats to rapid socio-economic development is ignorance. The APRC government will continue her war against illiteracy in order to achieve her triple objective of making education not only accessible, but also relevant and of good quality," remarked President Jammeh in his manifesto for the 2006 presidential election.

He promised that his government will construct more classrooms and more schools as well as create conditions to enhance the policy of Education-For-All with a view to providing at least nine years of uninterrupted basic education for all enrolled pupils in the school system. He also promised that scholarships will be awarded to deserving pupils to pursue further education in higher institutions both within and outside this country; pledges that have all been fulfilled.

Higher Education

The Gambia's Higher Education sector has also evolved significantly with the advent of the July 22nd Revolution. Not only did the sector see the birth of the country's first university, but also the proliferation of public and private colleges as well as technical, vocational and training centers across the country.

The University of The Gambia

Thanks to a great visionary leadership, university education in The Gambia kicked-off at the dawn of the Revolution through a University Extension Programme with the St. Mary's University in Canada that graduated the first ever Gambian home-grown graduates on February 16th, 1999. This followed the enactment of the University of The Gambia by an Act of the National Assembly in 1999, formalising the programme. The enactment, which was a bold step to fulfill a longstanding desire of the people of The Gambia and to respond to several years of advocacy both within and outside the country for a university, ended years of indecision on the university question.

The objective is to provide opportunity for degree studies in The Gambia through the establishment of a university with capacity for about 2000 students. Various commissions and task forces had identified the need for degree level programmes in the country in: health and allied sciences, including medicine, public and environmental health, and nursing; agriculture and natural resources; economics and management sciences; construction management; physical and natural sciences including computer science; and humanities and social sciences, including education.

A cautious and incremental approach is being adopted to develop these programmes, the initial focus being on utilising the physical facilities of classrooms and laboratories in existing post-secondary institutions in the country to offer degree level programmes, while the latter will maintain the courses and programmes of their current mandates.

A University Council was constituted in May 1999 to oversee the project. It commissioned a number of studies including studies on the University Conditions of Service, a University Service Structure, and a University Salary Structure.

Validation studies by South Bank University, London resulted in the commencement of a 2-year Higher National Diploma (HND) programme in Construction Management in The Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) in September 1999 under a franchise from that University.

With assistance from the Ministry of Health of Cuba, the pre-medical programme with an enrolment of about 25 students also began in September 1999. A Vice-Chancellor was appointed by the University Council and assumed office in October 1999. From December 1999, a recruitment drive for academic staff began so as to provide the university with academic staff of its own. Today the UTG is offering postgraduate degree programmes in fields such as African History and so on. The UTG has also managed to link with many top universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning across the globe.

Schools built

Some of the schools that have been built by the Second Republic, but not limited to, are the following:

Kaur Senior Secondary School

Kaur Senior Secondary school was among the first schools built by the Jammeh government during the early days of the Revolution, in 1995, just a year after taking over. There was a great need, and the new government, headed by President Jammeh, saw this need. He wasted no time in dealing with the matter with an equal sense of urgency. There are now two senior secondary schools in CRR North alone. This has brought immense opportunities for the children of the area to have access to higher education while staying at home and helping their parents. Wassu

Wassu is the biggest settlement in Niani, and it forms a very important part of Gambian history. It has also received a fair share of the Jammeh government development. There are multiple of schools in the whole of Niani District including Niani Senior Secondary School and Medina Basic Cycle School. In 1995, the first school was built purposely as a basic cycle school, and then upgraded to a senior secondary school. Armitage, could not contain the catering capacity for all. The issue of guardianship, among others, as some of the reasons for many people in that region not being able to get high school education, which has now become history.

Karantaba Upper Basic School

Karantaba Upper Basic School is among numerous schools that emerged as a result of the July 22nd Revolution. Built in 2002, the school has alongside it a well-built staff quarters, which has contributed immensely in maintaining teachers in that remote place. The school serves some 12 villages.

Diabugu

Diabugu Senior Secondary School is arguably the most expensive and valued school structure in that part of The Gambia that the Jammeh administration built. This village is in fact the largest settlement in the whole of the district of Sandu. This impressive school, one of the largest in the country, cost D33 Million, and covers an area of 250 square meters. It has three blocks of nine classrooms, fitted with laboratories - physics, chemistry and biology as well as workshops for wood, metal, technical drawing and arts and craft. There is also a standard football field and a basketball lawn. The school also has a computer laboratory and a school canteen. There are standard staff quarters which enhance the work of the teachers in the school.

Essau

Essau is just in the outskirts of Barra and prior to the coming of the July 22nd Revolution, access to higher education was a major constraint for the people of the North Bank Region (NBR). There was no high school in the whole region before 1994 and consequently in October 1995, the Essau Senior Secondary School was built.

Being one of the first schools built by the AFPRC government in the North Bank Region, this school has been serving many villages, from Amdallai in the Lower Niumi District to Sitanunku in the Upper Niumi District, and a number of satellite villages in the area. Albreda and Juffureh

These two places are arguably the biggest villages in Upper Niumi. A village as big as Albreda, for instance, until 1994, did not have a senior secondary school. Apparently, it was among the beneficiaries of the spree of senior secondary school construction projects at the dawn of the Revolution. Albreda Senior Secondary School happens to be the first senior secondary school in the whole of Upper Niumi District; it is well furnished with laboratories, a library, and a borehole - serving about 8 villages: Juffureh, Albreda, Mbata, Lamin, Sika, Pakau Saloum and Kembleh. Siffoe Senior

As part of activities commemorating the July 22 Revolution, the Vice President, Dr. Aja Isatou Njie-Saidy, inaugurated on behalf of President Jammeh the Siffoe Model Senior Secondary School in Kombo South, Western Region.

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