State education in The Gambia follows the same pattern today that was established by the British when The Gambia was a British colony. That is: primary, secondary, and tertiary stages. Primary education should, theoretically:
- START at 4yrs of age
- Be FREE education
- Be available to ALL
Due to the lack of government funds for education, there are few, if any, school places for the under 8s. Most nursery schools for the under 8s are private. Even if the cost of a place is very low, many families either cannot afford the cost or do not see the cost as a priority if they are struggling to feed their family. It is difficult for a child to find a place in a good primary school at the age of 8 if they are unable to read and write.
Many schools operate 2 shifts: 1 group of children attending in the morning; the other group in the afternoon. Even then, many classes hold up to 100 students, sharing desks, books, and pens. And one lavatory! Often just a hole in the ground!
Only those children who pass their exams (matriculate) can go on to secondary education. In fact, it is often family income (and the gender of the child) that determines whether a child goes to school, what school they go to, and how far up the academic ladder they progress.