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Education in The Gambia

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Maps of The Gambia

The Gambia is a small narrow republic in West Africa, along both sides of the Gambia river. It was a British colony until it gained independence in 1965. As with many ex-colonies, the government, judicial and education systems are based on the UK model. The economy is dominated by farming, fishing and tourism. There is considerable tourist development on the Atlantic coast, but most of the country is relatively poor and under developed. Gambians see education as a sure route out of the poverty trap. 

move the mouse pointer to switch between maps of Africa and The Gambia click to open map of The Gambia
based on maps published by US Central Intelligence Agency

We have collected together links to many maps of The Gambia. [see our maps page] This page also has links to Google maps we have constructed showing the location of many of the Gambian schools we work with. The Gambia Resource Page is a website holding a vast range of information about The Gambia. This direct link to their Education Section shows you a comprehensive list of the majority of Gambia's schools and colleges. The Falling Rain Directory covers the whole of The Gambia, listing latitude and longitude of many towns, villages and communities. It does not list any schools, but can be useful in pinpointing the location of a school.

The Gambian Education System

There are both state schools and privately run schools in the Gambia, with many of the private schools run by charities. Both types operate along similar lines, with similar curricula. Classes are given 'Grades', rather like the British 'Year' system. Children start their formal education at around 7 years old in Grade 1. School classes can contain a range of ages, as children may miss a year or two of education. Some children attend nursery classes before starting regular school.

Nursery schools & classes Nursery education is not financed by the Gambian state system, and parents must pay fees for attendance and for books etc. Some Lower Basic Schools have associated nursery classes, and there are separate nursery schools in many areas. These schools are increasing in number all the time, particularly in the western part of The Gambia but also now in the up-country villages. There can be three grades in nursery schools, referred to as N1, N2 and N3.

Lower Basic Schools (LBS) (Also known as Primary Schools) These provide education for 7 to 13 year olds, in Grades 1 to 6. Attendance at the State-run schools is 'free', but the families pay for school fund, books, food, uniform etc.

Upper Basic Schools (UBS) (Also know as Junior Secondary Schools) These provide education for 13 to 16 year olds, in Grades 7 to 9. During the past several years the state-run schools were 'free' for girls while boys paid tuition fees. Due to a World Bank aid programme, the Gambian Government now has a policy of abolishing all tuition fees in state schools.  At UBS level, book costs are considerably higher, and as there are fewer of these schools, many children could face a very long walk or pay increased transport costs.

Basic Cycle Schools (BCS) These schools are mainly in rural areas, and combine both LBS and UBS with all Grades from 1 to 9.

Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) (Also known as High Schools) These are equivalent to UK Sixth Form Colleges, and provide education for 16 to 19 year olds, in Grades 10 to 12. Until now both boys and girls have paid tuition fees but the World Bank scheme is supposedly being extended to SSS in 2015-216 – we have yet to see what this means in practice. The book and exam fees are higher still and the number of SS schools is quite small, making the funding of travelling to school a major consideration.  Many up-country students have to leave home and stay with a relative/guardian in order to attend SSS.

Further Education There are many Skills Training Centres which provide training in practical, technical and commercial subjects. Tertiary education in The Gambia is provided by the University of the Gambia, and a number of other post-secondary institutions including the Gambia College (GC), the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI), the Management Development Institute (MDI) and the Gambia Telecommunication and Multi-Media Institute (GTMI), which all provide degree level courses.

Enrolment Data Figures for 2012 show that around 85% of eligible Gambian children enrolled in lower basic schools [data source]. At the start of upper basic schooling, 58% were in education [data source], but only a few percent went on to senior secondary and tertiary education [data source]. As an example of how student numbers drop, the North Bank region has 97 schools with lower basic grades, but only 3 senior secondary schools.

Examinations Nationally Assessed Tests (NATS) at Grades 3 and 5 (LBS) and Grade 8 (UBS), rather like UK SATS, give some idea of how students in different schools are performing. The West African Examinations Council administers The Gambia Basic Education Certificate Examination (GABECE), similar to UK GCSE, at the end of Grade 9. This shows if a student should go on to senior secondary school or to a skills centre. At the end of senior secondary school (grade 12) students can sit the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Success can lead to students going to a Technical Training Institute, the Gambia College or the University.

How Pageant Helps

The various costs associated with education in The Gambia mean that poor families often cannot afford to send their children to school. Pageant has a Sponsorship Scheme which enables students to complete their education.  Have a look at our page showing students seeking sponsorship. Pageant also helps schools by shipping donated equipment and furniture to The Gambia. Gambian schools are often dilapidated and lacking in basic facilities, so we pay for new building work and renovations. you can find links to our latest projects here. We also help teacher training by providing workshops in science and microscopy, and provide kits so that practical science can be taught in schools which may not have mains water or electricity. 

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