Imagine you grow up in a village where the nearest school is 5 miles away. Imagine your water source is the same. You were born into a family that is required to tend to the livestock and plow the soil in order to make enough money to have a small surplus to buy a pair of plastic flip flops for your child to wear. Imagine an entire village where virtually no one reads and no one has been taught how to do basic math. What is most important for survival is having enough food, clean water and shelter to live. This is life for millions of people in Africa, and it is a reality that will not change overnight.
Imagine now, a village where people have been living like this for generations, sending their children to the fields to help, rather than school, so that the family will survive. An NGO comes and builds a school in the center of the community. Inside these mysterious walls, people will come and teach history, civic education, science, often in a completely unfamiliar foreign language. Do you think the mothers and fathers who depend on their child’s help in the fields will see this school as an important use of their child’s time?
In a community where education is not viewed as essential, it is important to introduce adult education to parallel the introduction of formal schooling for children. This involves basic literacy and numeracy, but also a clear way to communicate the implications this investment will return. Explanations with relevant examples to the reality of the village must be given, in a language they can understand, by a person who they feel they can trust. These adult education programs should show them ways to be more effective in their own work, whether it be through basic economic lessons or basic literacy to have access to information to read about improving their farms.
Parent’s small short term successes will be the building blocks to more support for their children’s educations. If they save 1000 CFA (approximately two dollars) by knowing how to efficiently count money and not be cheated by a more education business partner, they will instantly feel the economic rewards of education. Once they see these small victories, they will begin to grasp the potential for their own futures and that of their children.
It is a challenge to alter the way an entire community views the importance of education, but clear explanations and thought-out, relevant educational programs for both adults and children will help this happen. Non-formal education with lessons relevant to adults’ lives will help pave the way to understanding the value of formal schooling. And, with the support of more literate, educated parents along with non-formal education to start, children can begin the transition from full time laborers to full time students.