What Togo is doing to lift its students out of learning poverty
School has been out for many students around the world for months now — not because it is the holidays, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than one billion students, or 60 percent of the world’s student population, were affected as schools closed in March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In Togo, a series of school closure measures that month put over 2.5 million children out of school, and left over 68,700 teachers unable to teach. The West African nation was already facing a learning crisis even before the pandemic, from low learning outcomes to inequitable access to basic education, especially for girls.
The extended closure of schools could lead to a deterioration of children’s nutrition and health, wider learning inequalities, and an increase in the number of dropouts, especially among disadvantaged populations.
Now more than ever, there is an urgent need to improve access to education and equip Togolese youth with essential skills for the volatile job market.
With government reforms underway, further help from private companies like DHL — which runs GoTeach, a Group-wide initiative partnering non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve the employability of disadvantaged youth — will support the country’s efforts to boost its education system.
A learning crisis
Student success has remained largely elusive in the low-income country.
The country suffers from what the World Bank has called a “learning poverty”, where 86 percent of children in Togo at late primary age today are not proficient in reading, even as primary school education is compulsory and free.
“Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labor and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school,” explained Henrietta Fore, United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director.
The gap in access to education widens at the secondary school level. In 2017, only 41 percent of Togolese children were enrolled in secondary education. While this figure has doubled from 2000, the completion rate in secondary education remains low due to the lack of access to schooling in rural areas and expensive secondary education fees.
Equally alarming is the issue of gender disparity. In every level of schooling except pre-primary, there are 10 percent fewer girls enrolled than boys. The closure of schools due to Covid-19 could widen this gap and potentially expose girls to abuses like child marriage, which almost always spells an abrupt end to their education.
At the same time, poor working conditions and wages have led to unhappiness among teachers. They have gone on lengthy strikes since 2013, demanding for better salaries and to be paid on time. This has disrupted lessons and compromised the quality of education.
Remedying Togo’s education woes
While education has proven effective in helping low-income families to break the cycle of poverty, it is equally important to equip the youth in Togo with the essential skills to secure a job. This is especially crucial in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, where jobs in Togo could be lost or made redundant.
But the good news is that both the public and private sectors are sitting up and paying more attention to these problems. To avert a crisis, players from both fields have been working to set the country on the right track.
Amid the pandemic, Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL Group) launched a new partnership with SOS Children’s Villages in Togo as part of its GoTeach program, which seeks to improve the employability of disadvantaged youth through employee-led activities in partnership with NGOs.
“We hope to be able to empower young people in Togo with the skills they need to make a smooth transition from the school environment to working life,” said Josiane Akouelevi Ekue, Country Manager of DHL Express Togo.
Essohouna Bakoussam Manzi-Nika, Village Director, SOS Children’s Villages in Togo added, “We are very aware of the valuable contribution that DPDHL Group’s GoTeach program has made in the different localities where the partnership runs. Our youth in Togo are certainly in need of the type of guidance and direction that this program can provide.”
Through employment training programs such as mentoring, forums for educational guidance, and vocational training seminars, the partnership will prepare youth for suitable employment opportunities in Togo, explained Ekue.
In a move to reform its education system, the Togo government also implemented its Education Strategy 2014-2025, which aims to increase access to schooling in rural areas, and to reduce the illiteracy rate in Togo.
The plan sets out several strategies to achieve those goals, such as increasing the quality of education by improving internal efficiency, and developing effective partnerships by encouraging parent participation in school management.
In 2019, the government spent XOF174 billion (€36.3 million) on education, seven times more than the amount spent in 2005. Most of the monies were dedicated to recruiting teachers and paying teaching staff higher wages.
They also used a US$27.8 million (€24.6 million) grant from the Global Partnership for Education, a World Bank fund for education in lower-income countries, to strengthen girls’ enrollment in school.
The Covid-19 outbreak may have thrown a spanner in Togo’s efforts to rebuild its education system, but its goal remains clear: the country is determined to get its students right back on track, and out of the cycle of learning poverty.