Challenges in Guinea’s Education System

Written by Merve Tiregul

Guinea, officially the Republic of Guinea, is a country located on the west coast of Africa with a population of 13.53 million[i]. The region is known for hosting various ancient empires and civilisations, such as the Ghana and the Mali Empire, and a wide range of ethnic groups with historical roots, like the Fulani, Mandinka, and Susu people[ii] [iii] [iv]. In the late 19th century, Guinea came under French control with European powers, particularly France, establishing colonies in the region[v]. Guinea gained independence from France on October 2, 1958, under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré, who became the country’s first president[vi]. It was the only French West African colony to choose immediate independence rather than continued association with France[vii].

However, Touré’s presidency grew to be authoritarian and was marked by political repression, human rights abuses, and economic mismanagement[viii]. Touré’s policies led to the international isolation of Guinea and the country becoming one of the poorest in the region[ix]. Following Touré’s death, the country continued to struggle with poor macroeconomic performance, weak governance structures, and political instability in the 1990s[x]. In 2010, Guinea made considerable progress with a new constitution and democratic elections[xi]. However, the country faced political upheaval with a coup d’état in September 2021, leading to a fluid and unstable political landscape once again [xii]. The remnants of colonialism have left enduring imprints on the nation’s history, politics, and education system, contributing to structural challenges that still persist. Today, Guinea stands as one of the least developed nations globally, and the current political instability poses a substantial barrier to achieving widespread education access within the country [xiii].

While strides have been made to increase access to education, there is still ample room for improvement. Access to quality education is unequally distributed, especially in rural areas, leading to disparities in enrolment rates and learning outcomes. Although primary education for Guinean children is free and compulsory, the country struggles with extremely low enrolment and completion rates [xiv]. This is due to various factors such as economic barriers, traditional gender roles, cultural norms, and lack of infrastructure. This article aims to delve into the educational challenges in Guinea, shedding light on key issues that demand attention.

Lack of Infrastructure

The lack of adequate infrastructure in schools is a great concern in Guinea. Although the Guinean government made promises to increase the budget for education by 20% per international standards, it has been declining since 2020 to 10.2%, getting close to an all-time low [xv] [xvi]. Poorly equipped classrooms, libraries, and sanitation facilities hinder the quality of education and demotivate children from going to school. Many schools face a shortage of essential learning resources such as textbooks, reference materials, and teaching aids. The lack of these resources hampers the effectiveness of teaching and learning processes [xvii].

The lack of infrastructure also has a direct effect on the gender disparity in accessing education. As per the United Nations Children’s Fund, approximately 10% of female children in Africa miss or drop out of school due to not having access to proper restroom facilities during menstruation[xviii]. In fact, following improvements in school sanitation, Guinean girls’ enrolment rates witnessed a 17% increase from 1997 to 2002, demonstrating the crucial role sanitation facilities play in girls’ access to education [xix].

The insufficient infrastructure is particularly pronounced in rural regions making it harder for children to attend school regularly. This issue is particularly critical given that approximately 62% of the population in Guinea resides in rural areas [xx]. The country has a predominantly agrarian economy, with agriculture being a primary source of livelihood for a significant portion of the population. Additionally, Guinea has experienced relatively limited urbanisation and the pace of rural-to-urban migration has been slow. Unfortunately, ensuring universal access to education is significantly more difficult in rural areas where the majority of Guineans live. Schools are usually hard to reach because of long distances and insufficient transportation networks, such as roads and public transportation. Moreover, improving the quality of education proves notably challenging in Guinea’s rural areas. The lack of qualified teachers, adequate classrooms, educational materials, and sanitary facilities poses an even more significant problem in these regions compared to urban areas [xxi].

Quality of Education

The shortage of qualified teachers in Guinea is a pressing concern regarding the quality of education. Many schools, especially in rural areas, face difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers with proper qualifications. The average classroom consists of 80 students and only one teacher[xxii]. Large student-teacher ratios make it challenging for educators to provide individual attention to students. The Education Systems Analysis Programme report has shown that in 2019, a mere 45% of students who completed primary school demonstrated satisfactory proficiency in reading and only 32% exhibited sufficient skills in mathematics[xxiii]. This data illustrates the importance of the teacher shortage problem given its direct influence on learning outcomes.

Economic Barriers

Economic constraints pose significant challenges to families striving to provide education for their children. A poverty measurement survey conducted by Unicef in 2020 has shown that around half the population of children in Guinea live in poor households [xxiv]. Educational expenses, such as textbooks, uniforms, school supplies, and transportation impede access to education for many Guinean children. Moreover, many families in Guinea rely on agriculture or informal sector activities for their livelihoods. Sending a child to school means diverting labor from economic activities, which can be a significant opportunity cost for families dependent on daily wages.

Economic barriers also have a direct impact on the gender disparity regarding access to education. If a low-income family has both male and female children, they often prefer sending their boys to school while girls stay home to help with chores. Boys are regarded as a better investment than girls and their education is therefore deemed more valuable for low-income families, especially in rural areas [xxv].

Boys in a classroom. Guinea, June 2015, by GPE/Tabassy Baro via Flickr

Gender Disparities

While primary and secondary schools have become more accessible for Guinean girls since the 1980s, gender disparity in education remains a significant challenge in Guinea. When it comes to enrolment and completion rates, especially at the primary and secondary levels, there is a wide gap between boys and girls. In 2012, the rate of completion for primary school among females stood at 61.5% [xxvi]. Regarding secondary school participation, the net enrolment for males was 40.5%, whereas for females, it experienced a discouraging decline to 25.9% in 2016 [xxvii]. As of 2020 data, it was estimated that 37.8% of boys complete lower secondary school in Guinea, whereas the rate is 28.5% for girls [xxviii]. Notably, the disparity in completion rates between boys and girls stands at 9.3, surpassing the Sub-Saharan Africa aggregate gap of 3 [xxix]. When it comes to adult literacy, the gap between men and women stands at 29.9 which is larger than the gap of the Sub-Saharan Africa aggregate, 13. While 61.2% of Guinean men can read and write, the literacy rate is notably lower for women at 31.2%[xxx].

The gender gap in education has a large impact on the employment and financial independence of women. Since 1990, there has been a decline in the participation of women in the labor force in Guinea. In 2022, the participation rate in the labor force was 63.7% for men, whereas it was 41.7% for women [xxxi]. Education and literacy also play a significant role in the social standing of women and the extent to which women are empowered to contribute to and influence key aspects of their family life. In 2018, only 30.4% of Guinean women were involved in making major decisions in the household, such as household purchases, decisions about their healthcare, and visits to family, relatives, and friends [xxxii].

A 2008 research conducted by Tuwor and Soussou on gender discrimination and education in West Africa reveals persistent challenges affecting girls’ education[xxxiii]. These obstacles include cultural beliefs, misinterpretation of religious teachings, parents with limited literacy and education, and economic constraints. Families are often worried that their girls will lose their traditional values and will not make suitable wives if they receive an education. The study suggests that within Sub-Saharan Africa, the society reinforces the idea that a woman’s primary role is within the household and that girls should uphold traditional roles as brides, mothers, and domestic labourers. Due to these cultural norms and gender roles, girls are forced into child marriages, pregnancies, and physical and sexual violence within those marriages which prevent them from going to school [xxxiv]. Data collected by UNICEF from 2008 to 2012 supports this by revealing that 35.6% of female teenagers were married during this period[xxxv]. While the rate of adolescent pregnancies has decreased since 2010, 115 of every 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in Guinea in 2021, which is still 2.7 times more than the world average[xxxvi].

Additionally, household chores, caring for younger siblings, and cooking are other domestic responsibilities expected from girls which hinder their ability to attend school. According to the same study, the concern that their girls might get sexually assaulted or even raped is another reason why Guinean parents are reluctant to send their girls to school [xxxvii]. An empirical research conducted by Coleman in 2017 has revealed that it is, in fact, common for teachers to demand sexual favours from female students for a passing grade with little ramifications[xxxviii]. Overall, traditional gender roles, cultural norms, child marriage, and gender-based violence are all serious obstacles to girls’ access to education.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Guinea faces a wide variety of educational challenges that demand immediate attention and collaborative solutions. In order to achieve universal access to education, it is crucial for the government to address the issues of qualified teacher shortages, inadequate infrastructure,  economic barriers, and gender disparities. As we envision a future where every Guinean child has equal access to quality education, collaborative efforts between government bodies, communities, and international partners become paramount. Increasing the budget for education, investing in teacher training programs, improving infrastructure, and leveraging technology for educational enhancement are essential steps in the right direction. Moreover, the acknowledgment of the unique challenges faced by Guinean girls and women must be at the forefront of educational reforms. Gender-sensitive policies, community engagement, and awareness initiatives are vital components in dismantling barriers and fostering a more inclusive educational landscape. By overcoming these challenges and prioritising education, Guinea can lay the groundwork for innovation, economic growth, and social cohesion, and promise a better future for its youth.

References

[i] World Bank. (2022). Population, total – Guinea. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=GN

[ii] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Ghana | History, Culture & Legacy. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Ghana-historical-West-African-empire

[iii] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2023, December 4). Mali empire | History, Rulers, Downfall, Map, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Mali-historical-empire-Africa

[iv] Guinea | Map, Flag, Population, People, Religion, & Facts. (2024, January 10). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Guinea/People

[v] O’Toole, T. E. (2023, June 9). History of Guinea | Events, people, dates, & facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Guinea

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Schmidt, E. (2009). Anticolonial nationalism in French West Africa: What made Guinea unique? African Studies Review, 52(2), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1353/arw.0.0219

[viii] Pace, E. (1984, March 28). Ahmed Sekou Toure, a Radical Hero. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/28/obituaries/ahmed-sekou-toure-a-radical-hero.html

[ix] Farah, D. (2000, November 9). Leader keeps tight grip on Guinea. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2000/11/09/leader-keeps-tight-grip-on-guinea/c09726c4-1247-471c-880d-3c6c91592178/

[x] United Nations Development Programme. (2017). Country programme document for Guinea (2018-2022). Retrieved December 13, 2023, from https://www.undp.org/sites/g/files/zskgke326/files/2022-10/cpd_guinea_2018-2022.pdf

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Samb, S. (2021, September 6). Elite Guinea army unit says it has toppled president. Reuters. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/heavy-gunfire-heard-guinea-capital-conakry-reuters-witness-2021-09-05/

[xiii] Samb, S. (2021, September 6). Elite Guinea army unit says it has toppled president. Reuters. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/heavy-gunfire-heard-guinea-capital-conakry-reuters-witness-2021-09-05/

[xiv] The World Bank. (2019). Guinea Education Project for Results in Early Childhood and Basic Education (. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/pt/292711553199830295/pdf/Project-Information-Document-Guinea-Education-Project-for-Results-in-Early-Childhood-and-Basic-Education-P167478.pdf

[xv] Unicef. (2021). Guinea – Country Office Annual Report 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://www.unicef.org/media/117026/file/Guinea-2021-COAR.pdf

[xvi] MacroTrends. (n.d.). Guinea education spending 1991-2023. Retrieved December 12, 2023, from https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/GIN/guinea/education-spending

[xvii] The World Bank. (2019b). Project Appraisal Document: Guinea Education Project for Results in Early Childhood and Basic Education. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/490581562983276735/pdf/Guinea-Project-for-Results-in-Early-Childhood-and-Basic-Education.pdf

[xviii] Coleman, R. (2017). Gender and Education in Guinea: Increasing accessibility and maintaining girls in school. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 18(4), 266–277. https://paperity.org/p/84185798/gender-and-education-in-guinea-increasing-accessibility-and-maintaining-girls-in-school

[xix] Lafraniere, S. (2005, December 23). Another school barrier for girls: no toilet. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/23/world/africa/another-school-barrierfor-african-girls-no-toilet.html?_r=0

[xx] The World Bank. (n.d.). Rural population (% of total population) Guinea. World Bank Open Data. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=GN

[xxi] Unicef. (2021). Guinea – Country Office Annual Report 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://www.unicef.org/media/117026/file/Guinea-2021-COAR.pdf

[xxii] Three ways people are improving education in Guinea. (2017). The Borgen Project. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://borgenproject.org/education-in-guinea/

[xxiii] Unicef. (2021). Guinea – Country Office Annual Report 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from https://www.unicef.org/media/117026/file/Guinea-2021-COAR.pdf

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Coleman, R. (2017). Gender and Education in Guinea: Increasing accessibility and maintaining girls in school. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 18(4), 266–277. https://paperity.org/p/84185798/gender-and-education-in-guinea-increasing-accessibility-and-maintaining-girls-in-school

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] UN. (2016) UN data. Retrieved from https://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=GUINEA

[xxviii] UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). UIS.Stat Bulk Data Download Service. Retrieved December 12, 2023 from https://apiportal.uis.unesco.org/bdds.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] International Labour Organization. “ILO Modelled Estimates and Projections database (ILOEST)” ILOSTAT. Retrieved December 12, 2023, from https://ilostat.ilo.org/data/.

[xxxii] Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). (n.d.). Women participating in the three decisions (own health care, major household purchases, and visiting family) (% of women age 15-49). Retrieved December 14, 2023, from https://genderdata.worldbank.org/countries/guinea/#:~:text=28.5%25%20of%20girls%20and%2037.8,%2DSaharan%20Africa%20aggregate%2C%203

[xxxiii] Tuwor, T., & Soussou, M. (2008). Accessing pupil development and education in an inclusive setting. International Journal of Inclusive Education. 12(4), 363-379.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] UNICEF World Summit for Children. (2016). Plan of action for implementing The world declaration on survival, protection and development of children in the 1990s. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/wsc/plan.htm#Basic

[xxxvi] United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects

[xxxvii] Coleman, R. (2017). Gender and Education in Guinea: Increasing accessibility and maintaining girls in school. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 18(4), 266–277. https://paperity.org/p/84185798/gender-and-education-in-guinea-increasing-accessibility-and-maintaining-girls-in-school

[xxxviii] Ibid

Cover Image: “A classroom in session at Kigneko School; Dabola Area, in Guinea.” by GPE/Adrien Boucher via Flickt

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