Primary Education in Benin

By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C
December 9, 2010
Children make up approximately 50 percent of the population in Benin, and one-fifth of these children are under five years-old. Without proper safeguards and schooling, it leaves them vulnerable to perils of the streets such as forced labor and child trafficking. But a new program aims to improve education in Benin. Reporter Paul Ndiho has more:
Nearly half of Benin’s population lives on less than a dollar a day. A recent United Nations study shows that over 40 percent of children ages five to 14 are working and not in school. For Mamatou Nee Wassgui Orou Yo and her husband, Gnansi, going to school was never an option.

“I’ve never set foot in a school. My parents were farmers and I’m a farmer.”
But today, the Orou Yo’s see an opportunity for their children. UNICEF and the Government of Benin have created community kindergartens in remote areas such as Sinende, so that children such as four-year-old Wahi Wrou Wo have a strong foundation going into primary school.
“Before the commencement of this UNICEF-supported program, the education system in Benin was in a poor state. In addition to low access of schooling for children, three other issues affected the state of Benin’s educational system. First, the enrollment of children into schools was very low. Second, the rate of children completing primary school was low. And thirdly, there was a large gender gap in enrollment. Many more boys than girls were being sent to school.”
Children in the kindergarten program sing, play, and develop their identities in child-friendly spaces.
An extension of this initiative empowers mothers such as Mamatou with income-generating activities such as making shea butter and food items.
“I do feel empowered participating in this program because the profits I get from it help me do some household expenses, give some allowance to my children and help me with financial organization.”
Today there are over 200 community kindergartens in Benin. Sizable results have been achieved, but more work needs for the hardest to reach children, not only to enroll them in school but ensure that they stay in school.
“The educational program is indeed a program aimed to achieve educational equality, gender equality in particular, equality to address the Benin’s education system, where there was and there is still an important gap between boys and girls and to provide them plenty of chances to be able to have access to school.”
In addition to helping mothers, UNICEF is providing more training for teachers and has already built latrines and supplied equipment, furniture, and learning tools for the students and teachers.
“The kindergarten program is very positive for me. It’s helped me find a place to keep my children, do my housework, go to the farm and participate in income generating activities. More importantly, it’s helping prepare my children for primary school.”
The kindergarten program may help Benin to achieve U.N. Millennium Development Goal number two: ensuring that all boys and girls complete primary school by 2015.
Mamatou and Gnansi see their children’s education as a way out of poverty. They are also optimistic that with this kind of education, their child will be the first in their family to graduate from university.

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