Laouali Issoufou of SNEN, one of six unions in Niger coordinating the EFAIDS Programme talks about quality in education and breaking down HIV stigma.
What are the big challenges to quality education in Niger?
In Niger, not only do we have classes of over 100 students with only one teacher, but the classes are also taking place in straw huts and sheds where students often have nowhere but the floor to sit. Under these conditions it becomes very difficult to talk about quality in education. Often teachers are tasked with trying to teach several different grades of students in the same classroom at the same time. A typical set up at primary level would be to have one teacher in charge of Grades 1 and 2, another in charge of Grades 3 and 4. At secondary level the situation is no better; it is not unheard of to find some secondary schools with just two teachers, a Maths teacher and a French teacher. The Maths teacher will be asked to take charge of physics, chemistry and even sports, while the literature teacher will be responsible for history, geography and even a little English. While in the bigger towns and cities the situation tends to be a little better, it is still possible to see schools with a huge lack of resources in these areas.
What is being done to overcome these difficulties?
For some years the education system was feeling the effects of the government policy of recruiting contract teachers. Under the EFAIDS Programme we were able to survey the impact of this contractualisation of the teaching profession on the quality of education. These contract teachers generally have no, or insufficient, teacher training. By sharing the results of our investigation with those working across the education sector, we were able to convince the government to give these contract teachers some initial training. While we see two years being the very minimum in terms of teacher training, the effects of over-crowding can be felt throughout the education system, as in 2008 the government took the decision to reduce the training of primary level trainees to one year, and secondary level trainees to two years. We are lobbying the Ministry of Education in an effort to put more focus on professional development and training for teachers. On a practical level we are working to regroup teachers regionally so that teachers can share experiences and learn from each other.
What impact has HIV and AIDS had on the education sector? Looking at the statistics on HIV in Niger, with the prevalence around 0.7% it is tempting to think that AIDS is not a problem in the country. But there is such a reluctance to get tested that really the numbers of people living with HIV could potentially be much greater. People tend to believe that those living with HIV have contracted the disease through infidelity, and issues of discrimination such as this seem to discourage many teachers from getting tested. By supplying in the first place accurate information and in the second opportunities and access to testing the EFAIDS Programme in Niger is tackling the opposition to testing and paving the way for a more coordinated response to HIV and AIDS in the education sector.