The goal of the Salikenni Scholarship Fund is to help meet the education needs of young people in the village of Salikenni and several nearby villages in a rural part of The Gambia in West Africa. These needs now are changing, and our program will change with them.
SSF was founded in 1996 in response to a specific problem: Children were dropping out of school because their parents could not afford the fees charged by the government school in the village.
The Gambia, like most poor African countries, lacked the resources to provide free public education for all its children. The fees were small in primary school, but in grades 7-9 they rose to levels many families could not afford. High school and higher education were even farther out of reach for most families.
To meet this need SSF began providing scholarships to a few talented boys and girls, from especially needy families, in grades 7-9 at the Salikenni school. Since there was no high school in the village, we paid for them to attend high schools in the metropolitan area. We promised all our students that — if they could make it — we would pay their way through four years at the University of The Gambia or other higher education within the country.
Following that model, the program has grown over the years, and other elements have been added. Here is a snapshot of SSF today:
The education landscape in The Gambia has been changing in recent years and our program is adapting to these changes. The Gambia is working toward a goal to provide free public education from preschool through grade twelve for all of its children.
Since 2004 tuition has been free for girls through grade 9. In 2014 this was extended to boys. In the 2015-16 school year tuition has been reduced by about 75 percent in government-supported high schools throughout the country.
As a result of these changes, SSF now spends less on tuition through grade 12 but more on other aspects of the program. These include tutoring, books and computers in order to better prepare our students for higher education. And, as more and more of our students qualify for higher education, we are spending increasing amounts on tuition at the University of The Gambia and other higher education institutions in the country.
Meanwhile, in 2014 the Gambian government opened a high school in Salikenni. It began with only grade 10. Grade 11 was added in 2015, and in 2016-17 there will be a grade 12. The new high school has been started with a very small budget. The Gambian government has been unable to provide textbooks for the high school. SSF is supplying them. The new high school does not have a science lab. Nor does it have a science track with courses in biology, chemistry and physics.
SSF strongly supports the new high school in Salikenni. But because of its start-up problems our students so far have continued to attend high schools in the urban area. Many of them live in the supervised campus that SSF provides in Serrekunda, in the suburbs of Banjul, the capital.
One other positive change in the Gambia’s education landscape should be noted. The government primary school in Salikenni has for several years been teaching phonics in an effort to improve reading skills. An SSF team recently went to the village to recruit new scholarship students at the grade seven level. As they do every year, they administered tests in math and reading. They found a much larger number of qualified applicants than ever before. Instead of the usual 14 new students, this year we have admitted 30, equally divided between boys and girls.
Our goal is to have each one of the SSF students graduate from the Gambia’s university or other higher education institution. This will require increased fundraising by SSF in the years ahead.