Literacy in The Gambia: Catching up during school break

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By Bakary Seedy Dampha, Education Coordinator, ChildFund The Gambia and Janella Nelson, Education Director, ChildFund International Posted on 09/08/2023

Children in The Gambia sit in a classroom, learning.Fifth-graders in The Gambia study at a school supported by ChildFund's Education and Protection for Well-being (EPW) program.

Children in The Gambia have long struggled to access a quality education. In fact, in 2018 (pre-pandemic), only 14% of children in the small country’s West Coast Region ages 7-14 (14% boys, 14% girls) demonstrated literacy skills, while only 12% (8% boys, 16% girls) demonstrated numeracy skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these skills gaps. School closures due to lockdowns, combined with public and school holidays, have frequently interrupted students’ learning over the past three years. Children have missed many days of school, causing them to fall further behind academically.

Championing education in The Gambia

In the West Coast Region of The Gambia, ChildFund is implementing the Education for Protection and Well-being (EPW) program over a two-year period in schools in conjunction with our local partner organization Ding Ding Yiriwa Federation. The goal of the program? To build social cohesion in schools, encourage positive parenting and parental involvement in education, enhance teaching methods and break the cycle of violence, improving academic outcomes for children 6-12 years old.

Recently, ChildFund and Ding Ding Yiriwa Federation supported teachers and caregivers at two schools where EPW is implemented – Jambanjelly Lower Basic School and Quranic Illumination Center – to find a solution to help children catch up to grade-level literacy standards. The school community agreed to implement remedial classes during the school break that would support 705 children in grades 2-5 improve their literacy, numeracy and social-emotional skills.

Prior to the launch of the remedial classes, caregivers were informed at a parent-teacher meeting that 28 teachers had volunteered to forgo their summer vacations to teach foundational skills for four hours, four days a week throughout July and August. While the classes focused on literacy and social-emotional learning, teachers also taught other core subjects like math, English, science, social and environmental studies – plus lessons on self-protection from violence.

A group of teachers in The Gambia pose for a photo outside in front of a school.A snapshot of just a few of the educators who offered to give up their summer vacations to help students succeed.

The way forward: Strengthening literacy in The Gambia

It has been customary in The Gambia for most parents to play a minimal role in their children’s education and not request additional support from teachers or give suggestions. Through the EPW program, caregivers and educators have attended “bridge” sessions together to enhance parent-teacher relationships, partnering to improve children’s education. While ChildFund covered food and transportation costs for the teachers and school supplies for the classes, the initiative was made possible because of the parents and teachers themselves. Thanks to the new ways they’re working together, 705 children now have the opportunity to successfully transition into the next grade.

A group of children sit in a classroom in The Gambia as a teacher stands in front of a blackboard.