In most of West Africa, there is a drop out rate of 70% before students reach 6th grade. While there are many complicated reasons for the failure of the educational system, lack of funding is one major factor. After structural adjustment programs were forced on African governments in the 1990s, funding to schools dropped considerably. Mismanagement and misallocation combined with inadequate funding contribute to the educational crisis in Africa and result in insufficient infrastructure and support. General poverty makes formal education an expensive choice for parents, and even more so when governments are unable to provide books, buildings or even teacher's pay.
Educational statistics show the results of funding and infrastructure insufficiency, and are especially evident in rural areas and for secondary education. In Togo, the government will provide a primary school teacher if the community provides the school. This means, that most villages have a primary school, and provided the teacher is paid by the government, most children have access to primary educations. The drop out rates are still high, but the majority of girls and boys do complete primary school (55% and 77% respectively). However, the situation gets much worse for secondary education.
The secondary school situation in Togo is due to several factors. Secondary schools only exist in relatively large towns. This means that students in surrounding villages must walk or find other transportation for up to 25 miles each way. Competition for seating or place in class is also high, and, as in primary school, students must pay a tuition fee each year. Students must pay for their own books, uniforms and supplies, which is a daunting expense for poor families. Secondary school requires a greater number of books and supplies, and many children spend their entire summer break working to save money to purchase these. Finally, students must pass an annual exam each year, or they lose their place in school. Poorer students, especially girls, have disproportionately more chores and household responsibilities and often have difficulty finding time to study for these exams. Farm and home responsibilities often take priority for these students, and they choose to abandon their formal educations.Future Consequences of Today's Educational Crisis
Today, around half of adults in Africa are illiterate, and the majority of these are women. While reading and writing are not necessary for a fulfilling and productive life, illiteracy is a handicap in a world where information exchange is based on the written word. As global trade increases, illiteracy can put people at a disadvantage: it keeps them from realizing the full value of their products. And, perhaps even more disturbingly, the vast majority of students who do make it through the education system leaves or wants to leave Africa to find work elsewhere. This is causing a major loss of human capital that is very detrimental to the future of the continent.
Even though the current education system has many problems beyond the lack of funding (curricula issues, lack of traditional educational models, etc...), we still believe all children should have access to the economic opportunities that education can present. For this reason, we have supported education in our central Togo communities since 2004 through several projects.
Our very first project, which continues to this day, is providing school supplies - such as notebooks, pencils, pen, chalk, and so forth - and uniform fabric to 200 disadvantaged students each year. This project is also one in which our customers and supporters can particpate. Many of our retail locations provide school supply donation boxes each year. Look for them at your local store.
In addition, we also carry out several school repair and furniture donation projects each year. Often, villages are able to build a school using local materials and labor, but cannot afford metal roofs and desks to complete the school. In 2011, The Wedge Co-Op and Whole Foods Florida partnered with Alaffia to donate school benches to schools in rural Togo.
Finally, since 2006 we have collected and distributed used bicycles to secondary school students to help them get to and from school. Read more about this project on our Bicycles for Education page.