Guinea-Bissau Struggles to Educate in Constant Political Turmoil

Due to Guinea-Bissau’s political bedlam, children are forced to miss out on the basic education they sorely need. Accessibility to education is low and is constantly interrupted by teacher strikes, and schools receive the lowest portion of the country’s budget for education in West Africa, reports the IRIN.

Guinea-Bissau has been torn by military coups and civil war (1998-99) since its independence from Portugal in 1974. This has halted the development of the country’s society and infrastructure — not least of which is education — allowing it to deteriorate into one of the world’s poorest states.

April 2012 marked the beginning of the current interim government’s rule. Three months later, over 90% of the primary and secondary schools closed due to the absence of an effective government.

Even though the attendance rate is up by 64% in primary and secondary schools, the quality of education remains poor. Only 60% of children complete primary school and only 22% of children finish secondary school.

Widespread poverty, insufficient learning materials and teachers, inadequate teacher training, early marriage for girls, the seasonal use of child labour, and long distances that some students have to cover to get to school, are some of the other barriers to education in Guinea-Bissau.

Many Guinea-Bissau donors revoked financial assistance after the last coup due to the country’s instability, and the donors that remain can only do so much to alleviate the problems plaguing the broken public education system.

UNICEF Guinea-Bissau spends US$3.5-4 million annually supporting primary education with textbooks, teacher training and curriculum revision, among others. By contrast, the government spent roughly US$11 million on education in 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

In that year the government spent 11 percent of the budget on education – the lowest proportion in West Africa. At 30 percent Ghana allocates the highest amount to education in the region. More than 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s education budget pays salaries, leaving little or nothing for teacher training, buildings and equipping schools, according to the UNICEF.

The latest teachers strike, which began in the beginning of May, has ended, but this past year the school lost one third of the year’s instructional time because of strikes. Some teachers are still owed money from as far back as 2003, according to the teachers union.

The parents’ association began raising funds to pay teachers so they can continue to teach during salary delays. Parents donate 700-2,000 CFA francs (US$1.3-4) per month to give the teachers up to 30,000 CFA francs ($60). The effort is meant to complement the pay they receive from the government.

Education Minister Vicente Poungoura believes that the state needs an audit to better manage the schools by determining the exact number of teachers and schools needed. He says that the government needs to have a better understanding of education and the problems it faces before they can ask for assistance.

The Education Minister also believes that lack of policy and leadership contributes to the country’s education crisis.