Due to the current state of the public education system in Senegal, many parents have chosen to send their children to private school. Attending a private school ensures parents that their children are receiving the best education they can. However, this also means that the students and their families are required to pay tuition. At École Sainte Bernadette, students in all grades pay a minimum of 17,000 CFA (approx. 34$) a month to cover their general education. This money helps employ the teachers, cooks, custodians, and bus drivers at the school. However, students who wish to take extra classes, participate in extra curricular activities, ride the bus to school, and eat lunch at the canteen may pay up to 40, 000 CFA (approx. 80$) a month. Within the school, there are students with families that are able to pay that amount, and there are students with families that cannot. Sainte Bernadette understands that many families may struggle to make enough money to keep their children in school, however there is not much the school can do to help because of their low budget. Many scholarships are given to orphans who may not be able to generate that amount of money on their own, but that seems to be the only exception.
The third Monday of the month was one of the more difficult days at École Sainte Bernadette for me. Class was interrupted by the school secretary, who came in with printed receipts for all the students who had not paid their tuition this month. The students’ names were read alphabetically and the students were directed to collect their belongings and follow the secretary out of the class. When I asked my CT what was going on, she explained that the students who had outstanding balances were taken to a separate room and not allowed to return to class until it had been paid. For some children this means they won’t be able to return to school for months. For others, they quit school al together and start working with their parents to raise money for their siblings receive an education. At first, this seemed almost cruel, but after reflecting back on the experience I realized that there are many families that struggle to make enough money to keep their children in school in Senegal. The school does not have the resources to allow certain families not to pay. While it is not ideal, it is a reality for children and their families in Dakar.
I am very grateful for the time I have spent at École Sainte Bernadette. It was challenging at times, but through those challenges I have come to appreciate the education I received growing up and the opportunities I was given. I have been exposed to the hardships of teaching and living in a third world country, and I hope that the new perspective I have gained will transfer into my teaching career in the future.