The bottom line, however, is more complex: Francophone education is contrasted by faith-based groups – like the Organization for Islamic Action (OAI), al-Falah (or Movement for the culture and authentic Islamic education in Senegal) , the Association of Muslim students of Dakar (Aemud, linked to the Jamat Ibad al-Rahman network) – oppose the will to “Arabize” teaching, under the pretext of making it more suited to the mentality and demands of the population.
Now, arabic is not a native language (as opposed, for example to the widely spoken Wolof), but rather it constitutes the “sacred” language, the instrument par excellence through which the message of faith and prayer passes. Vindicating its widespread teaching means promoting a confessional speech. This is proven by the fact that, in the diverse national scene, the schools where Arabic is used always have a religious character. This aspect is worn with pride and the directors of the institutes point it out to the parents, to encourage them to enroll their children.
So we see how the school system as a whole is set up.
Senegal has about 15 million inhabitants and it boasts a schooling rate of 84 percent among children (with marginal differences between males and females); 40 percent of pupils complete secondary level education; while about 4 percent of high school graduates enroll in one of the five public universities (present in Dakar, Saint-Louis, Thiès, Ziguinchor and Bambey) or in one of the five private universities open in various regions.
But it must be highlighted that Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, the largest institution, built by the French in 1957, actually has around 100 thousand students enrolled, with a problematic ratio professor / student equal to 1/172 (According to Unesco, the ideal ratio is 1 / 30).
The programs are copied from the French model, but teachers in public schools have to face overcrowded classrooms from the elementary level up (even 90 students per class) and a chronic shortage of teaching aids. This is why urbanized middle class families prefer to enroll their children in equalized private institutions (some Catholic).
It should be pointed out that the introduction of Islam as a mandatory teaching subject, alongside notions of the Arabic language, is recent. It dates back to 2002, on the initiative of former President Abdoulaye Wade, who was supported in his rise to power by the murida marabouts. They are the leaders of one of the major Muslim brotherhoods, created at the end of the nineteenth century by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
It should be noted that his younger son, Cheikh Mouhamadou Mourtada Mbacké, was the creator of the main network of private self-funded religious schools in the country. These schools are disseminated everywhere and they teach around 70,000 pupils, the poorest of whom attend for free.
Murida pilgrims at the entrance of the Great Mosque of Touba, Senegal (photo by Ben Curtis / AP)
Denominational education does not concern so much the public learning system, but the private sector, which intends to compete against education in French. This reality has a strong foothold in popular culture and is inspired by an ancient informal model: Koranic schools or Daara. These were created centuries ago, to allow the faithful to memorize the Koran in Arabic, from an early age, and learn the essential elements for the ritual practice. Some Daara have become high prestige centers, albeit strictly oriented to theological or related matters (for example, Arabic grammar).
Since the 1970s, the emergence of French as an official language and a working tool, and consequently of modernity and development, has marginalized the Koranic schools.
But the disillusion of the present, linked to an economy that does not provide opportunities for all, let alone young people who have completed their studies, has changed household strategies once again. This is pushing parents to go back to a kind of education that safeguards traditional values and preserves the morality of youth, despite diminishing their career opportunities. Djim Dramé, a researcher at the Islamic studies laboratory of the Ifan at the University of Dakar, explained it to us.