The U.S. Embassy in Banjul, in collaboration with the Forum for African Women Educationist (FAWE-GAM) and World Education International African Division on Monday commenced a summative conference at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia.
The purpose of the conference was to appraise the outcome of the Ambassadors Girls Scholarship Programme (AGSP) over the past four years.
The implementing partners discussed and shared experiences on various topics on the impact of the programme on girls' education, boys' inclusion in the programme, community involvement in education of their children and capacity development for NGOs.
In his opening remarks, US Ambassador Barry Wells said that the purpose of the Ambassador's Scholarship Fund is also to correct gender imbalance in education in Africa in order to contribute to sustainable development. He said in June 2002, former President George W Bush announced the Africa Education Initiative (AEI) recognising that the education of African children is vital to the continent's future economic growth and lasting democracy.
The initiative, according to him, is managed by USAID and is designed to improve educational opportunities for African children so that they may lead happier, healthier lives, and become more productive members of society.
"Since the programme began here in The Gambia in the 2005 school year, it has matured and provided a total of 2,292 scholarships to primary school girls and 225 scholarships to primary school boys in the amount of approximately $300,000. The recipients are competitively selected by a board consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Education, USAID, NGO partners, as well as community leaders, teachers, and health workers", Ambassador Wells stated.
"There are three components of the Africa Education Initiative, including the Ambassador's Girls Scholarship Programme, teacher training, and textbooks and other learning tools. The Ambassador's Girls Scholarship Programme goal is to provide 550,000 scholarships over five years for primary school girls in 39 countries in Africa," he revealed.
Also addressing the participants at the opening of the conference, Ms. Sharon Mangin Nwankwo of Education Division USAID, Africa Bureau, told the regional delegates that the Ambassadors for Girls Scholarship Programme started in 1999. She noted that the U.S. Ambassador recognised the role local Non-Governmental Organisations were playing in getting girls into school. She said "the ASGP enabled these organisations to demonstrate the tangible benefit of educating girl children, which in turn enhanced advocacy efforts".
"The scholarship programme enabled organisations to engage communities in education assistance, to assist girls and boys to get in and stay in schools, and to advocate for girls and women rights generally," she stated.
According to her, the programme is making a difference more generally across the continent, adding that a recent evaluation indicates that ASGP scholars are more successful in passing from one grade to another.
Also, addressing participants was Ms Ida Jahumpa-Njie, the Chairperson of FAWEGAM executive committee, said the Gambia's hosting of this important conference manifests not only the AGSP and the USAID, but their commitment to work in line with policy objectives of education which should provide relevant quality basic education accessible to all.
FAWE-GAM Chairperson revealed that the education of the girl child in this respect cannot be over-emphasised as it is one of its major preoccupations, while saying that the Ministry of Education have demonstrated this by providing the appropriate condition to increase the enrolment of girls in schools.
She said since its inception in 1997, FAWEGAM has been supporting these laudable efforts by working to promote gender equality in education in the Gambia and by advocating for positive policies.
For her part, Adelaide Sosseh, the Chairperson of Education for All Network, said "these face-to-face events are important as they strengthen the bonds of friendship and partnership and take project implementation to another level as it gives donors, implementers, beneficiaries the opportunity to interact at a personal level."
Mrs. Sosseh believes that girls' education is high on the development agenda. Despite this, she said, "We are yet to meet the EFA and the MDG's gender related goals for 2015".
Other speakers included the Representative of Minister of Basic and Secondary Education, Mr. Kunkung Jobarteh, Deputy Permanent Secretary, and Ms Shirley Burchefield, the Vice-President of World Education International African Division, who dilated on the importance of education, more particularly, the girl child.
DPS Jobarteh assured the organisers of his ministry's support to girls' education in The Gambia.