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Strengthening Entrepreneurship For Education In Guinea

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Strengthening Entrepreneurship For Education In Guinea

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2023 marks an important milestone as we are now midway in the ambition to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In September 2015, world leaders agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, initiated on 1st January 2016. The seventeen SDGS focus on ending poverty, addressing inequalities, and climate change to ensure no one is left behind.

As our global population grows and our geo-political environment becomes more turbulent, providing access to quality education becomes even more challenging. Over the last year, events in Afghanistan have been a shocking reminder that education systems are not invincible and not considered a fundamental human right globally. At a time when we are more connected than ever, it seems impossible that we still have to balance the fragility of education and the consequences when it is disrupted. Current figures from UNESCO estimate 244 million children and adolescents worldwide do not have access to education. In addition, over half a million (617 million), children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math. When we add a gender lens to the discussion, the data is even more challenging — less than 40% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa complete secondary school according to the World Bank.

What can be done? Ask any student, teacher, or parent, and they will share the impact of the global pandemic on schooling and, ultimately, the disruption caused to education systems. However, this disruption also created opportunities for new ways to think about education. When addressing the turmoil, one of the most fundamental questions is who takes responsibility for education? The fragmented state of our education means there are many more opportunities for individuals with a strong sense of agency to create solutions. Folly Bah Thibault is an example of an accidental entrepreneur who needed to address such a gap by establishing an NGO, to support girls’ education in Guinea. The NGO is called Elle ira a à l’école – which translates to she will go to school.

Folly Bah Thibault, senior presenter at Al Jazeera and recently appointed Global Champion for the UN’s Education Fund, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), explains her decision to become an entrepreneur; “The fractured education system, the result of decades of experimentation around national identity and insufficient funding has led to clear divisions in access to education. Children in Guinea experience education inequality. Private schools are the domain for privileged families offering the best resources to equip them for future careers. Children from poorer backgrounds are in public institutions whose education is disrupted, with teachers striking due to working conditions. Thibault explains, “There’s a big divide regarding access to quality education. And it got worse during the covid-19 pandemic. The health crisis showed us that the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable children have the most to lose. Without the safety and protection of quality education environments, they are at higher risk of child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, child labor, recruitment by armed groups, and other human rights abuses. So we wanted the kids from low-income families, especially the girls, to have the same opportunities and have access to quality education.”

Typically, girls from poorer families, particularly single-parent households, leave school in their early teens to become domestic workers. They are inevitably forced into marriage when they turn thirteen or fourteen. The idea started with funding single-parent households to educate their daughters by paying for tuition, transport, and food allowance, removing the economic burden on the children. As Thibault investigated the community’s needs, she recognized the needs were more profound and that providing the funding would address the symptoms but not the problem. Access to schools was another barrier. In larger rural areas, education provision is challenging. Thibault and her team decided to establish a school in a district called Dalaba, approximately 300 kilometers from the capital, Conakry. The idea of providing financial support galvanized into an entrepreneurial venture as the vision strengthened. The region has historically been the seedbed to nurture and educate Government officials from privileged families. Establishing a school in this area would reduce inequality and create networks to influence policy.

As the project developed, further complications emerged. The provision for primary school kids attracted ten-year children who had slipped through the net and couldn’t read. Thibault explains the situation; “we had to start the grade one or two classes with much older children than you would expect to see in a normal school setting. So, we expanded our scope and inaugurated a school in 2020 to serve the needs of the local children and others from surrounding villages.” Currently, the fledgling school has over one hundred children split across classes with growing needs regularly. Recognizing the value of the school provision, the Government now provides teachers for the school, a departure from the standard model of education, where school infrastructure and teachers are state-funded. This hybrid model offers an innovative approach to greater social mobility for children who cannot access expensive private education and need to be sufficiently served by existing state provisions.

For Thibault, one of the most surprising elements in her journey is the focus on providing education provision, which grew to become much broader than financial aid for schooling. She recognizes the school is much more than an educational institution; “It’s become a hub for the community itself, the community of Condel, and the surrounding villages. It’s where, you know, they meet parents and teachers and students they need to discuss and arrange their daily lives; I know it’s a bit cliched, but picture it at the school village where everyone comes in every day.” The school, as a hub, provides a launchpad to shift the narrative around gender roles. Better education introduces more opportunities and creates different aspirations for girls. Raising this change has become a community effort, with the leadership team at the school negotiating conversations with community elders and fathers of the girls. Thibault explains, “We are working in a culture where girls are taught to be mothers, and if there is a choice between sending a boy or girl to school, then the boys will be sent. There is some shift because women are increasingly recognized as the backbone of the informal economy. Still, it takes time to change attitudes and mindsets. In these more remote areas, it takes a lot of work to change the attitudes and mindsets because, in their minds, the girls still have to stay behind, and that’s how it’s been.”

Through her new role as Global Champion for ECW, Thibault is keen to amplify her work; “I hope to continue advocating for increased funding for education in emergencies and protracted crises, to leverage my networks to connect people, resources, know-how and talents, and to ensure our collective storytelling on education does not forget the 222 million crisis-impacted children, especially the girls who so urgently need our support.”

She goes on emphasize the importance of this work; “As an African woman, born into a culture and society which for a long didn’t believe in the value of having girls and did not see women as equal members of society, this, for me, is a personal battle. I want to help little girls in Africa and beyond receive a quality education to have the courage and independence to make informed decisions affecting their lives. When you teach girls to read, write, and excel in science, technology, engineering, and Maths, you invest in their equality, empowerment, and the future.”

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