One month after the start of the scholastic year teachers and administrators from schools in and around the capital Conakry have reported a dramatic reduction in enrollments.
"The classes are almost empty" Mamadou Sacko, a senior teacher at Conakry's Matam Secondary School told IRIN at the end of October.
At Conakry's Donka Secondary School, the registrar, Abdoulaye Diallo, said he had expected 805 new students but only received 311.
"It's clear that parents here are suffocating from the cost of living and can't afford to send their children to school," according Camara Morlaye, headmaster of Manquepas Primary School in the town of Kindia, 135 km northeast of Conakry.
IRIN collected information on enrollment from six schools in the weeks following the start of the school year on 9 October. In each school, enrollment was down from the previous year, sometimes by more than half.
According to the United Nations children Agency UNICEF, in 2004 28 percent of boys and only 13 percent of girls were enrolled in secondary school. UNICEF did not have data on enrollments for 2006 and referred IRIN to the ministry responsible for secondary education.
The ministry's national director for statistics and planning Bakary Diawara said so far he only had data for 2005. However, Diawara agreed that a massive drop in enrollment was entirely possible with the "extreme poverty" that parents in Guinea are now facing.
"They have had to suffer enormously in order to educate their children," he said.
With runaway inflation, many parents have found it hard enough to feed their children. The cost of a sack of rice in Conakry has nearly doubled from the year before and in remote areas it has tripled.
Wages, on the other hand, have not kept pace.
Guinea's public schools are free of charge but parents must pay for school uniforms and equipment. "Parents must bring a desk to school along with their children," said the registrar at Donka. He said that in the local market a desk costs 150,000 Guinea Franc (US $27.46) while a year earlier it only cost 75,000 Guinea Franc (US $13.73).
At Conakry's Madina market, Fanta Doukoure, a mother looking for school equipment said a school bag that cost her 6,000 Guinea Franc (US $1.09) a year ago now sold for 28,000 Guinea Franc (US $5.12). "The price of exercise books has more than doubled and they are now sometimes difficult to find," she said.
Guinea's inflation rose from 45 percent in 2005 to 48 percent today, Soufiana Dabo, an economist at the University of Conakry said. "Donors have stopped giving the government aid money since 2002 so the government has had to print more money itself," he said.
The effects of inflation are not just felt by the very poor. At the largest private school in Conakry, Koumandian Keita, the headmaster Aboubacar II Camara told IRIN on 26 October that only 525 students had enrolled by comparison to the 1,400 students that had enrolled by that date the year before.
One parent at the school, Ibrahima Sadio Barry, told IRIN that his civil servant wage is no longer enough to send his of two children there. "I am suffering terribly every morning when I see my two children just sitting at home," he said
At other private schools parents had similar stories. "Last year I was able to pay but this year I don’t see how it is possible," said Sékou Ahmadou Cissoko the parent of a student formerly a Conakry's Saint Georges private School.
Fees at Saint George for 2006 have almost doubled from 2005.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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