Dubai Cares invests $1.33m in Senegal bilingual education push

Dubai Cares' grant will help 10,500 children across Senegal over a three-year period

Dubai Cares, the emirate’s education foundation, announced today the launch of $1.33 million programme to support Senegal’s bilingual education project for children.

The grant will help the Associates in Research and Education for Development (ARED), scale-up the programme to benefit 10,500 children across different regions of the country over a three-year period.

“In many parts of the world, children face difficulties in absorbing content in schools due to differences in the languages spoken at home and those used at school. Children often are demotivated by their inability to comprehend and keep up with the syllables, causing many of them to drop out. Bridging this gap is critical to ensuring children stay in school and learn better,” said Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares.

The bilingual education programme, started by ARED in 2009, is an experimental project that seeks to tackle the challenges that children in Senegal face when learning under the official French language curriculum.

Under the bilingual programme, students are taught reading and mathematics in their local dialects alongside French during the first years of elementary education. There are more than 27 dialects spoken in different regions of Senegal, however, most children receive lessons in French, leading to a high drop out rate due to linguistic barriers.

Besse Nguer, a mother of two children studying at the L’ecole Kawabata in the capital Dakar, said she has seen the programme’s positive impact on one of her sons and would like to transfer her other child to learn under the same system.

“My son now reads well, learns better and knows maths. His grades are much higher than my other son who is not studying under the bilingual programme,” she said.

With French the official language in Senegal, parents were skeptical about educating their children using local dialects, fearing it might impact them negatively in the future. However, after seeing their grades improve in both French and the local language, many favoured the switch.

The government-backed programme has an 80 percent success rate, compared to 40 percent for the national average, especially when it comes to reading and math, according to Samba KA, chairman of ARED.

About 60 percent of Senegalese children are in school, with illiteracy in the country at 45 percent. After studying under ARED’s bilingual programme, children rejoin the official French language based curriculum, but are better prepared to follow it.

“The biggest problem today in the world is we have 58 million school age children not attending school,” said Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares. “We should provide programmes which tackle the issue of access. Then again we have 250 million children around the world who attend school, but they are not learning. That is a quality issue.”

With Dubai Cares’ support, ARED will be able to train 300 teachers to implement the programme and recruit 24 education inspectors that ensure it is running smoothly. To support the nation-wide implementation, Dubai Cares will also focus on developing teaching materials in local languages for different grades, increasing coverage by adding 100 new classrooms and raising awareness among the Parent Teacher Associations and community members about the importance of bilingual education.

“This cooperation is critical for the education system in our country and fits into the Senegalese government’s strategy,” said Serigna Mbaye Thiam, Minister of National Education in Senegal. “After this pilot programme, we want to scale up and we will need a lot of resources.”

The government will require 17 billion West African CFA francs ($29m) for this expansion to reach all levels of elementary school across the country during six years. The minister said he planned to seek approval from the head of state for this long-term strategy at an upcoming meeting.

“With the help of Dubai Cares , we will increase geographically, as well as the number of classes,” said Mamadou Amadou Ly, General Manager of ARED.

Dubai Cares’ grant enables ARED to boost the number of children under the programme from 6,000 to 10,500, according to Ly. ARED also aims to assist local institutions in other West African countries strengthen their capacity to apply the programme through sharing expertise, methodology and new tool kits, said Samba KA.

The $1.33m lifeline will help ARED roll out the programme in Dakar, Saint Louis and Kaolack regions of Senegal, with the possibility to cover wider areas in the future.

To date, Dubai Cares has reached close to 13 million beneficiaries across 39 developing countries with its different programmes to provide children in developing countries access to quality primary education.  

Photo credit: Dubai Cares