Cablegate: In Last Place and Falling: The Problem of Education In

DE RUEHNM #0158/01 0531559
R 221559Z FEB 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Niger's education system ranks among the worst in the world. It
suffers from a crumbling infrastructure, a lack of resources and a
teacher corps that is under-trained and demoralized. Niger's woes
are compounded by a population growth rate of 3.4%, one of the
highest in the world. Corruption and mismanagement are serious
problems, although the government has begun to address them. These
factors auger a bleak future for Nigerien youth in a country where
two-thirds of the population is younger than 25 years of age, the
literacy rates is 29% and gross primary enrollments are 52% for boys
and 37% for girls. The poor state of Niger's education system was
the key factor securing its place at the bottom of the UNDP Human
Development Index.

2. This cable is the first in a series and will examine the current
state of Niger's education system and the challenges the GON faces
in formulating and implementing meaningful reform. Other cables will
identify key public, private and international educational
institutions in Niger and address problems of gender disparity in
enrollments, the emerging role of private and Islamic schools in
Nigerien society, and the financial, linguistic, curricular, and
human resource challenges, which continue to plague the education

Education Policy In Niger: An Overview

3. The Nigerien system of education is a national system run by
three separate ministries. Preschool, primary and literacy
development are the responsibility of the Ministry of Basic
Education and Literacy (MEBA). Secondary education and higher
education fall under the Ministry of Secondary & Higher Education,
Research and Technology (MESSRT). The Ministry of Professional
Training and Employment of Youth (FPTEJ) oversees vocational

4. The National Board of Education meets once a year in Niamey. In
addition, each of Niger's eight regions has its own board, which
ostensibly develops and coordinates regional education policy. In
reality, there is little meaningful planning or coordination at the
national level and the regional boards have no practical effect on
education policy, resource allocation or decision-making.

5. In 1998, the GON passed La Loi D'Orientation du Systeme Educatif
du Niger (LOSEN) which identified the most pressing needs of
Nigerien students and established a set of objectives to improve the
education system. Eight years later, LOSEN has yet to be fully

The Nigerien Education System

6. The educational system in Niger is organized as follows:

--Preschool (Jardin d'Enfants) begins at age four or five and lasts
for two academic years. Enrollment in preschool is not universal
and the majority of preschools are private, expensive and located in
urban centers. The cost of public preschool runs FCFA 6,000 to
10,000 ($12-20) per year with private schools costing approximately
FCFA 50,000 ($100) a year. This amount is significant when compared
with Niger's per capita GNI of $240.

--Primary school begins at age seven and lasts six years. At the
conclusion of their sixth year, students take the national secondary
school entrance exam. Only about 40% pass the exam. Those that
fail can repeat the academic year, but only once. If they fail a
second time, they must drop out or enroll in private school. Public
schooling at the primary level is free. Private schools average
about FCFA 50,000 ($100) per year.

--Middle school consists of four academic years with enrollment
beginning at about age 12-15, depending on the student's performance
in primary school. At the conclusion of their fourth year, students
take a national exam called the Brevet d' Etudes du Premier
Cycle(BEPC). Student success rates on the exam have averaged 40%,
however, last year's pass rate was only 20%. The GON touted this
recent drop as a success since it resulted in large part from a
campaign to combat corruption in national testing, where students'

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families bribe teachers, or teachers extort their students to gain a
passing grade.

Students who fail may repeat the year if they have not repeated a
class in the same cycle previously. If they are ineligible to
repeat, they are expelled. Parents who can afford to do so send
their children to private schools to finish their secondary
education. The cost of public secondary education is free with
tuition at private institutions averaging FCFA 100,000 ($200) per

--High School (Lycee) consists of three academic years of study.
First year studies follow a common curriculum, but in the second and
third years, students are tracked based on their aptitude in
mathematics, humanities, languages and science. High schools are
generally only located in cities and larger towns, making it
difficult for students from rural areas or smaller towns to attend.
The GON stopped providing boarding facilities at the lycees in 1983
due to financial constraints and concerns by the Kountche regime
that boarding schools were becoming hotbeds for anti-government
protest movements.

At the conclusion of the third year students take a national exam
called the Bacalaureat de l'Enseignement Secondaire (more commonly
known as the "Bac"). Those who pass are eligible to attend
university. Those who fail can repeat the year, if they have not
already repeated any of the previous classes at this level. If they
are ineligible to repeat, they are expelled. Success rates have
averaged 30% in the past, however last year only 11% of students
passed the exam. Again, this was spun by the GON as the successful
implementation of their efforts to eliminate fraud and corruption in
national testing.

Regardless of spin, success rates have been very low and remain so.
A major factor in poor student performance is the inadequate
instruction at the primary school level, where many students
administratively pass to the next level while unable to read or
write. They are then able to bribe a passing grade on the BEPC and
continue on to the lycee.

--Professional and Vocation schools are available for students who
pass the BEPC, but do not wish to go on to lycee. These students
take a competitive exam to enter one of the professional schools
such as the National School of Public Health (ENSP), Rural
Development Institute (IPDR), National School of Public
Administration (ENAM), the Aor School of Mining (EMAIR), or one of
several public vocational schools.

Tuition at public institutions is free for those who pass the
entrance exams. Other students who wish to attend may do so at a
cost of FCFA 200,000 ($400) per year. Private vocational schools
cost upwards of FCFA 250,000 ($500) per year.

The Curriculum

7. The primary and secondary school curriculum is developed at the
national level by the Institute National de Documentation de
Recherche et d'Animation Pedagogique (INDRAP). INDRAP technically
falls under MEBA, though it is also responsible for secondary school
curriculum development and implementation. INDRAP inspectors and
teacher trainers are tasked with ensuring that the national
curriculum is instituted and followed. Both public and private
schools are required to follow the national curriculum.

8. INDRAP has worked to modernize the national curriculum, however a
persistent problem remains. French continues to be the medium of
instruction from preschool level onward, though many Nigeriens are
not fluent French speakers. Some suggest beginning preschool and
primary education in local languages and gradually introducing
French, however, this is made difficult by the number of ethnic and
linguistic groups which comprise modern-day Niger.

9. The exception to the French-language standard is Niger's
Franco-Arabic schools, which use both languages for instruction.
These schools exist at the primary, middle and high-school level.
Niger has very few Arabic speakers and enrollments at these
institutions are low, with about 8% of students attending
Franco-Arabic schools.

Resource Issues

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10. The root causes of the crisis facing Niger's education system
are insufficient and/or crumbling infrastructure, lack of human
resources and poor financial management:

--Approximately two-thirds of Niger's population is under age 25 and
the population continues to grow at a rate of 3.4% per year. Niger
does not currently have enough classroom space for its existing
student population and the problem will only intensify as the
demographics skew younger.

--Public schools in urban areas are poorly maintained and often lack
electricity, blackboards, furniture and basic school supplies. In
the rainy season classes at some schools must be cancelled during
storms due to leaky roofs. Educational infrastructure in rural
areas is often deficient or non-existent.

--In 2004-2005 secondary schools numbered 410 with 3,661 classrooms
(which included 724 straw huts). During that period, the number of
school-age children set to start secondary studies (13 to 15 years
old) was 1,019,014, although only 108,270 or 10.6% were actually
enrolled. Until the 1980s, school supplies were provided to
students free of charge. Currently that is not the case, and parents
are forced to contribute more and more to finance their children's
education, even if they attend public schools.

--The growing number of school-age children requires the hiring and
training of more teachers. Current GON practice consists of filling
this gap with often unqualified teachers called "contractuels" who
do not have the same wages or employment guarantees as the civil
servant teaching corps. The contractuels are often recent
university graduates with no academic or practical teacher training.
This two-tiered system began in 1997 and the contractuels now
represent more than 60% of current teachers.

-- In FY2002, external support represented 45% of the government
budget, including 80% of its capital budget. The GON remains
dependent on funds from international donors to provide basic
services, including education. However two recent cases have come
to light, where GON officials are accused of embezzling or
misappropriating donor funds earmarked for education programs. As a
result, the Minister of Basic Education was fired and he, his
predecessor and several working level officials in the ministry face
prosecution. However, many businessmen involved in sweetheart
contracts with MEBA were only required to pay restitution and
escaped more serious charges. As a result of these incidents, donors
are requesting better accounting and financial management as a
condition of future funding.


11. The challenges facing Niger's education sector are daunting.
While the GON seeks to increase access to education for its
school-age population, particularly girls, it does not have the
resources, infrastructure, or teachers to adequately educate its
existing students. Success in increasing enrollments without
additional investment in infrastructure and human resources will
only further tax a system near collapse. In addition, increased
capacity without corresponding improvement in teacher training and
the quality of education will only succeed in moving more students
though a dysfunctional system, and will not impart the knowledge and
skills necessary for Nigerien students to succeed after graduation.


© Scoop Media

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