Banjul, The Gambia
Fellow Since 1998
ABC- A Better Chance Learning Center
This profile was prepared when Fatou Jobe was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
Fatou Bin Jobe is establishing after-school learning centers to provide affordable remedial education to Gambia's children. Faced with a chronically under-funded public education system and extremely high dropout rates, Fatou is reshaping education for low-income children and providing them with alternative sources of curiosity and motivation.
The New Idea
The idea of affordable remedial education is new in Gambia, and Fatou Bin Jobe has found the means to offer such education to Gambia's public school children. She is now providing a mechanism through which to educate and support middle and high school students throughout the country. Fatou has established an after-school learning center that provides students with the resources and attention that Gambian public schools cannot. Her center provides small classes, individual student assessments, and participatory pedagogical techniques (such as student reports and journals), all of which are unavailable in public schools. What's more, the center helps instill students, especially young girls, with the intellectual self-confidence they need to defy the cultural pressures that militate against education.Most importantly, by building a base of support in local communities and securing international partners, Fatou has made her center an affordable option for low-income families. Parents pay 150 Dalassi (US $13) per month for a structured after-school remedial program which provides the only alternative to expensive tutors and private schools. Fatou has secured materials from abroad inexpensively, found motivated teachers to work in her learning center for less because working conditions are so much better, and encouraged local citizens to donate equipment. One of her central insights is that community support and participation is a critical element to students' success at the learning centers.
Of the fourteen thousand children entering primary school in Gambia each year, fewer than half will graduate from secondary school. Almost twenty percent of these children cannot go to secondary school, not because they are not qualified, but because there are no places available. Another twenty percent drop out during the secondary school years for various reasons, including family pressures to find a job and help support relatives. In the end, only 6,000 of the original 14,000 graduate, and many of these who pass along to the next level and remain illiterate and ill-equipped to pursue higher education or enter the job market. Because of a variety of obstacles including large class size (typically over 50 students), lack of necessary teaching materials/aids (including libraries in elementary schools), lack of trained teachers, and traditional teaching methods that leave the students with very few practical skills and poor language proficiency, students end up falling behind their private school counterparts in all academic areas. The current educational system has no means of addressing this issue or assisting students who face these problems. Students enter secondary school with poor reading skills and a negative attitude to reading in general. While private tutors exist to assist students, most families in the Gambia (one of the world's poorest countries) cannot afford this option.
Fatou founded A Better Chance Learning Center (ABC) in April of 1998, as an after-school remedial program that focuses on helping middle and high school students with reading and writing skills. The Center provides experienced teachers, reading and reference materials, a copying machine to alleviate book problems, and an environment conducive to learning. The Center is located in Banjul, the capital city of the Gambia. Its activities are financed through monthly fees from parents and donations from local and international sources.The Center gives students three hours a week of remedial classes which focus on building their deficient skills. The Center also provides the students with the appropriate materials and concerned teachers who motivate them and help them find out where their problems lie, to develop their linguistic competence, and therefore to help them improve in all other academic areas. The assistance and counseling provided by the ABC is designed to strengthen the students' self-confidence, to develop their intellectual curiosity, and to improve their general academic skills. ABC especially advocates capacity-building to empower girls to defy cultural stereotypes.In addition to teaching English and other subjects daily at the Center, Fatou meets with parents, raises money, and organizes teacher-training sessions and book drives. These day-to-day activities help Fatou stay in touch with the community's attitudes toward education. They also lend her additional credibility in spreading her idea to other potential Center founders. ABC also serves as an enrichment facility and a resource center for teachers: workshops are planned in order to share methods and materials. The establishment of the first ABC Learning Center is providing the institutional framework necessary for Fatou to teach others how to adapt her idea and develop their own centers. Fatou plans to run her first "center training," which will work with other educators to help them replicate her model, within the next several months. She expects that her idea will spread first to other urban areas, where Centers can assist and learn from each other. Thus far, Fatou has been working with associated local and foreign donors and trained teachers, but is putting into place a broader institutional base which will include concerned citizen groups and local community organizations around the country and the West African sub-region. Fatou has discovered that citizens care deeply about deteriorating national educational standards and poor intellectual development, and are willing to contribute to her work. Fatou is mobilizing resources by organizing people to make donations of books, facilities, and equipment. As the founder and leader of ABC, Fatou sees broader movement potential within the next five to seven years. In developing her spread strategy, Fatou admits that there are certain obvious obstacles, including lack of books and lack of trained teachers. To combat these obstacles, Fatou is planning to organize book drives outside region and conduct teacher trainings. She is also working to make this system accessible to the very poor. It is difficult to anticipate the reaction of government when these centers become widespread. Thus far, ABC has approached the government, but it has shown no interest. Fatou admits that this could change as the number of centers increases throughout the country. Through teacher training, founder training, and publicity, Fatou intends to disseminate the idea on a national scale. The philosophy behind ABC is that such a center can be started anywhere. Looking to the future, Fatou envisions that ABC could also become a transition school for dropouts who want to develop their skills while preparing to rejoin school system. This aspect is intended to encourage girls' education in particular, as most dropouts are girls.
Fatou Bin Jobe was five years old when a neighbor recognized her innate teaching skills. That neighbor brought other little children, one by one, to learn from Fatou. At the age of sixteen, Fatou went to a teacher-training institute, from which she graduated with a teaching certificate. She was first girl in her family to go to school.In summer 1979, she began spending her summer vacations doing voluntary work with groups of North American youths who came to Gambia with Operation Crossroads Africa to do rural development projects. This kind of living and sharing with youth from all over the US and Canada was very inspirational. Two of the Crossroads leaders went on a personal crusade to pay her way to the US and help get her into college. In the summer 1985, she left to San Francisco City College and was later accepted at Mills College. Fatou taught for over ten years before going to the United States and France to further her own education.Fatou's wide experience teaching in Gambian secondary schools from 1976 to 1983 as she worked her way up to Assistant Principal was enough to help her realize that the great majority of students were not "stupid" or just suffering from "lack of interest," as many parents and teachers believed. During this time, she also went to Sierra Leone in 1983 to pursue a High School Teachers Certificate program in English, French, and Education.After a few other years at the SOS High School and the American School in Banjul, she finally proved that the right strategies and methods together with the right materials were really all that needed to make her dream come true. Those private schools had students from non-English backgrounds, who after a few months to a year of complete immersion in the school program, were speaking and writing the language comfortably. She decided to work on creating a similar atmosphere for Gambian students. While abroad, Fatou decided she wanted to work with kids back home. She slept on the floor so she could save money to purchase books for students in the Gambia. During that time, she also decided to set up an independent center upon her return to the Gambia. Fatou sees herself as role model, and a teacher of teachers. In establishing the ABC Learning Center, Fatou has shown others that such a thing can be done outside the education establishment.