Education system in The Gambia

Gambia has an interesting and well-structured education system. The formal and informal education system co-exist, which is unique, giving the parents a choice to switch between the two.

The basic structure of the formal education system in The Gambia has the following three components:

  • ECD, Early Childhood Development (ECD): The formative years curriculum is designed for cognitive development.
  • Basic Education: The first 9 years of schooling make up the basic education route. (Lower Basic schools have grades 1-6, Upper Basic schools have grades 7-9) Basic Education Cycle schools have all classes from grades 1 – 9)
  • Secondary Education: Senior Secondary Level: There are senior secondary schools (grades 10,11,12), of which some are subsidised via grant-in aid, some are funded by the government’s budget, and the remainder are private schools.
The informal education happens in Daras, Majilis or Madrassas where children are taught Qur’anic education. Madrassas also teach English, Math, and science along with Qu’ranic education. Some of the madrassas are recognised by The Ministry. Given the high priority given to religious education in some regions, especially for girls, it would be an important asset that madrassas offer the official curriculum.

The Gambia’s National Education Policy (2016 – 2030) envisages a single, integrated, basic education system encompassing the years 1 to 9 with no transition exam at the end of the lower-basic cycle. In recognition of this provision the previous policy (2004 -2015) has created a swift growth in the upper basic level in terms of increased enrolments and expanded infrastructure.

At the end of grade 12, students take the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and depending on their results, they may go into the Technical Training Institute, Gambia College, university, or pursue some certificate courses offered by institutions.

According to the MICS (The Gambia Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2005/2006) Report, 62.6% of children of primary school age in The Gambia are attending primary school. There is a slight difference between male (61.0%) and female (64.1%) primary school attendance rates. Literacy levels among women aged 15-24 is 48.2%. The highest level is found in Banjul and the lowest in Upper River Region (URR) and Central River Region North (CRRN), each registering less than 30%. While gender disparities in education are very slight, the rural population is at a marked disadvantage, and poverty is the most discriminatory factor. Gender disparities are virtually inexistent for lower and upper basic enrolment, although a slight disparity exists as of upper basic completion, carried through to senior secondary, which is completed by only 25% of girls, against 32% of boys. Almost all (95.3%) of the children who enter the first grade of primary school eventually reach Grade 6.

There are around 6 – 10 International schools in urban Gambia (region 1 and 2), with a joint population of 699,704. Most of them predominantly follow the IGCSE curriculum and few follow Bilingual- French curriculum, US curriculum and Montessori. Gambia does not have a school with IB curriculum yet. Expatriate teachers from nearby African countries or Europe/Asia and Gambian teachers teach in these schools. The international schools have exceptionally good facilities for children to learn and explore their potentials.

Since 2000, enrollment growth has been strongest in senior secondary and higher education, having more than doubled over 2000-09 from 15,554 to 36,141 students in senior secondary and having multiplied by almost four in higher education.

Despite all the previous efforts and the structures in place, quality education remains a major challenge. Though the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is high, 82.0% for boys and 84.0% for girls (UNESCO 2011), children in The Gambia still face constraints to achieve the minimum standards required by the curriculum and the set learning achievement targets. Gambian students currently perform poorly in the National Assessment Tests (NAT). On recent national exams, a maximum of 10% of students in Grades 3 and 5 reached a mastery level in English, Science, or Mathematics (MoBSE, Education Sector Medium Term Plan: 2008-2011).  

With increased enrolment, the ratio of teachers to students has also increased. This affects the quality of teaching and learning.

The Ministry of Education is very welcoming to all its private partners who help and contribute to improving teaching and learning. Once an MoU is agreed upon between the government and the development partners, they are given opportunities to intervene and show results, as it is one of the key goals in the National Education Policy. Sourcing teachers is a continuous problem both in the public and private sectors due to the small population of the country and the lesser availability of qualified teachers. But professional development courses, teacher training programs will help in improving the standards. Various large-scale trainings happen continuously in the Gambia to improve the quality of teaching. These trainings are conducted by government and non-government partners in education.

International schools are perceived and kept in high regard due to the high quality of learning. Students who have passed from international schools are doing very well abroad in various universities across the globe, due to the exposure of various learning resources available in these schools.

It is heart-warming to see the efforts of the government and other partners in education trying to create an impact in the lives of children. Education is the key for the success of any country, and I am glad to see how well the education system is evolving in The Gambia. With more aid, the current scenario can improve and children will receive the best.

About Author

Maitri Sivaraman

ASSP National Program Coordinator
Pioneer Certified Program Leader of the University of Cambridge
Ms. Maitri Sivaraman is a renowned academician in the development sector. She is currently, the National Program Coordinator for a research project in Effective Intervention’s After-School Support Program (ASSP) in partnership with LSHTM (London school of hygiene and tropical Medicine).

She has co-authored a research article published in the Journal of development economics titled; How much can we remedy very low learning levels in rural parts of low-income countries?

She is also the Pioneer certified Program Leader, offering the Professional Development Qualifications (PDQ) in SBEC International school on behalf of the University of Cambridge, UK, training international schoolteachers.

She works with the focus to further strengthen and support efforts to address the quality of learning, by training teachers on pedagogy and works with key development partners of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in The Gambia.

Ms. Maitri has been living in The Gambia for almost two decades and has been working with schools in Rural and Urban Gambia by training more than 800+ teachers.

Her love for Gambia has only increased over the years due to her extensive travel and work in almost 300+ villages in the North Bank, Lower River, Central River regions of The Gambia.

On the personal front, she is an ardent advocate for environment friendly initiatives, minimalistic and mindful living. She likes to play golf, loves to walk in the beach, does yoga, meditation and participates in community-based activities.

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