With a population slightly exceeding three million, Mauritania is one of the world’s least developed countries. Its location in the arid Sahel region contributes to its characteristic food deficit. Having sustained repeated years of drought and locust invasions, food production remains at extremely low levels. Access to food is increasingly difficult for the average rural family due to skyrocketing prices of basic food items. Food availability is also increasingly limited as Mauritania’s economy relies on imports to supply 70 percent of its food needs. For the children in rural families, access to food is crucial and often education comes second to agricultural work, which is their primary means of subsistence.
Mauritania has a sound and credible plan for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education with a specific focus on completion of Universal Primary Education. To achieve this objective, this project has brought together efforts of IDA, EFA-FTI, and other donors toassist Mauritania by: (i) improving access to education through the increase of completed schools and the expansion of school feeding and health programs to meet schooling demand; (ii) improving the quality of pedagogical content in primary education; and (iii) improving the quality of teaching and the internal efficiency of education as measured by the retention rate (reducing repetition and low dropout rates).
To achieve the objective of the project, the following activities have been implemented: (i) more than 3,162 classrooms have been built by local communities on a contractual basis where the responsibilities of the community and the government, including a payment schedule, are spelled out in a contract signed by the two parties before construction starts; (ii) in-service trained teachers increased from 1,240 teachers in 2001-2002 to 54,900 teachers in 2008-2009 while teachers graduated from pre-service teachers training increased from 1,000 teachers in 2001-2002 to 45,000 teachers in 2008-2009; and (iii) the purchase and distribution of 7,500,000 textbooks and teacher guides, and (iv) school health and school feeding programs have been strengthened.
The project also promoted good practice of hygiene and nutrition at the school level to support the improvement of both access and quality of education with the following activities: (i) teachers were trained on hygiene, nutrition and school healthy issues; and (ii) school health and nutrition guides were prepared and 10,000 copies were distributed to schools.
In a large number of villages concentrated in the south of Mauritania, seasonal agriculture is a major cause of absenteeism among children. The school feeding program targeted regions where children and families are especially vulnerable to food shortages and malnutrition. In terms of health, based on national surveys of children's health and nutrition status; de-worming tablets and micronutrients were distributed to students to reduce the prevalence of iodine, iron and vitamin A deficiencies.
The following results have materialized thus far:
- Gross enrollment ratio for primary education has increased to from 88.7 percent in 2001-2002 to 98 percent in 2008-2009;
- Gender parity among female students has increased to from 43.3 percent in 2001-2002 to 50.3 percent in 2008-2009;
- Grade repetition levels have dropped drastically, from 15.9 percent in 2002-2003 to 2 percent in 2008-2009;
- Primary education completion rate increased from 46.9 percent to 69.4 percent between 2002/03 and 2008/08;
- For girls especially, school feeding programs have had an impressive impact at getting girls into school and keeping them there. In addition to nourishing children, school canteen programs also play an invaluable role in connecting parents, teachers, and community.
The IDA contribution to the program was US$ 49.2 million equivalent, in addition to the US$9 million total received from the EFA-FTI to support its activities in accelerating progress to meet the education MDGs.
This is an emergency or disaster risk reduction type of project. There has not been much donor interest or capacity to support this project. IDA remains the only donor partner for this project through its three successive phases.
Toward the Future
The second or "expansion" phase is currently under preparation. It is expected to extend the implementation to secondary education and scale up the pilot programs in the technical and vocational education systems. A decentralized administration will be operational following the reinforcement of the institutional and management capacity in the regions. The financing sources will include an EFA-FTI grant of US$14.0 million, an IDA credit of US$12.0 million equivalent (for vocational training), as well as contributions from other donors.