As Mali’s government makes strides toward the Millennium Development Goal of primary education for all by 2015, increased school enrolment and the resulting shortage of teachers and classroom space have blocked a growing number of students from secondary education.
In 2008, some 17,000 students out of more than 80,000 who passed their secondary school exams, known as the diplôme d’étude fondamentale (DEF), were not admitted to secondary schools, according to the Ministry of Education.
About 40 percent of the group is female.
Mariam Coulibaly, 17, told IRIN she received her DEF in June 2008 in the capital Bamako. But she said her name was not included two months later on a list of students assigned to secondary schools for the 2008-09 academic year.
“The [secondary school] director told me that I had passed the age cut-off of 16 years," Coulibaly said. "I asked him what I could do and he said that he was sorry [that he could not help]." She told IRIN she had been forced to repeat a year because of illness.
Three criteria for secondary school admission in Mali are the DEF, the student’s age, and the student’s academic performance, according to the Ministry of Education.
Coulibaly’s father, Arouna Coulibaly, told IRIN it is “unjust and paradoxical” that the government did not advance his daughter. “They [government] encourage us to send our children, especially our girls, to school.
“They [students] are then told to leave under the pretext they are too old. Can the school not teach students of all ages?” Arouna Coulibaly said. The student’s mother, Rokiatou Sow, told IRIN the family was forced to enrol Mariam in a private school in October 2008. “She has become a burden for our family. If we did not pay for her secondary education, what would become of her?”
Coulibaly’s parents said they are paying US$600 per year for the next four years for her to study accounting. Students do not pay to attend state-funded secondary schools.
The average salary in Mali was $500 in 2007, according to the World Bank.
The local non-profit, Coalition for the Defence of Children’s Rights, told IRIN that not advancing students who receive their DEF, especially girls, is a “flagrant abuse” of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Mali signed in 1990. “Children have a right to study to the end,” said coalition member Almadi Cissé.
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The government is aware of the “severity” of the problem, according to the Minister of Basic Education, Sidibé Aminata Diallo. “The number of students not advancing [to secondary schools] who have their DEF is becoming more problematic every year,” said the minister.
“The growing student population is a result of the government’s emphasis on increasing primary school enrolment.”
Mali’s government adopted the UN Millennium Development Goal, set in 2000, to increase primary school enrolment for all and basic education for young adults by 2015.
Basic Education Minister Diallo said there are not enough classrooms or secondary school teachers to accommodate the swelling enrolment. From 2002 to 2007, the percentage of girls enrolled in primary school increased from 56 percent to 68 percent and boys from 78 percent to 88 percent, according to the government.
Diallo told IRIN students who do not continue to secondary schools are not being “thrown to the streets.” The minister said the government is constructing more vocational training centres to address the problem.
The minister estimated 35 percent of primary school students will not meet criteria to attend secondary schools in 2010.