The following entry was written by Natalie Huberman and first appeared at the old blog site.
27 OCT 2008
There is new, seemingly good news coming from Togo. The Togolese government has announced that, starting October 6 2008, all students wishing to attend primary school may do so free of charge. At first glance this would appear to be a very positive step; however, as with many Government programs it may lead to more problems than solutions.
The first problem facing the school administrators is that this announcement came as a surprise. They were not properly prepared for the additional students which will mean overcrowding of classrooms. The second problem is that they are unsure of how they are going to pay for the necessary supplies for the additional students. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect the children’s participation in school.
Historically, the Government-run education system has suffered from teacher shortages, lower educational quality in rural areas, and high repetition and dropout rates. Because of these and other problems, Catholic and other religious organizations have stepped in with greater success.
In the village of Dedeke, the citizens asked the Government for help with a school for their children but they were turned down. The Catholic church came to the rescue. The school building is basically a thatched roof with open sides, but the villagers made benches and desks, and the children have been attending. The citizens of Dedeke are very proud of the school and want to continue sending their children there.
The new free school is located far enough from Dedeke to pose several problems for the children who live in the farthest reaches of the village. There is a midday break that would require the children to walk back and forth from their homes to the school. For the children who live furthest from the school, this is just one more disincentive to continuing to attend.
The citizen’s distrust toward Government’s promises is natural given their track record. Some Togolese wonder if this new school plan is just a way of garnering votes in the coming elections. I expect that the answers to all these questions will be clearer to us after our visit this December. I will keep you posted on what we find out.