Food availability and food access are two major concerns for Mauritania’s population. Due to its location in the arid Sahel region, this country relies for 70% of its food needs on imports and basic food items are therefore extremely expensive for the average family.
For children of rural families, poor access to food means that education comes second to their subsistence farming. Seasonal agriculture is the leading cause of absenteeism among children in various villages located in the south of this country.
Children unable to eat breakfast in the morning head home in the afternoon for often their only meal of the day, contributing to the absenteeism problem.
Recognizing that hunger was also an education problem, the government of Mauritania made school feeding an important element of its plan to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015.
The Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank’s IDA and other international partners are helping Mauritania achieve this goal by (I) improving access to education by building schools and expanding the school feeding and health programs (II) improving the quality of pedagogical content in primary education and (III) improving the quality of teaching. The Global Partnership for Education supports the country’s education plan with two grants totaling US$ 23 million.
Thanks to the Global Partnership for Education and other donor funds (including a World Bank IDA grant of US$ 49 million), more than 3,162 classrooms have been built over the past four years; the number of teachers receiving in-service training increased from 1,240 in 2002 to 54,900 teachers in 2009.
At the same time, the number of new teachers graduating from pedagogic institutions increased from 1,000 teachers in 2002 to 45,000 teachers in 2009. Also, 7,500,000 textbooks and teacher guides have been distributed, and school health and school feeding programs have been strengthened.
School feeding programs have been implemented in regions that suffer the most from food shortages. “School feeding has created more stability in the villages by keeping families in one place,” said Ahmedou Ould Babana, School Parent Representative in the southern region of Brakna. “More parents are encouraged to send their children to school.”
As a result of the strengthened education plan and the international support, Mauritania has made significant progress in the education sector. The gross enrollment ratio for primary education has increased from 88.7 percent in 2002 to 98 percent in 2009 and an equal number of girls and boys are participating in primary school (up from a female participation of only 43% in 2002).
While too many students still drop out, the primary education completion rate improved significantly and increased from 46.9 percent to 69.4 percent during the same period between 2002 and 2009. In the second phase of the national education sector plan, supported by the Global Partnership for Education partners, there will be more emphasis on strengthening access to and the quality of secondary education.