Part of my research project here is on child fostering, and children who spend a significant portion of their childhood outside their home. Sometimes, it’s for financial reasons; sometimes, it’s for social reasons and to spread out the responsibility of caring for many children, but most of the time, it’s for education.
There are two reasons that children leave home for education. In rural areas, where education beyond elementary school isn’t always available, parents will often send their children to live with a relative or a friend in the city where the child can go to school. Another reason is the écoles coraniques, or Quran school. It’s where the children receive religious education, learn to memorize the Quran, and typically also attend normal classes at a nearby private school to learn either French or Arabic.
The children leave their homes as young as 4 years old, and will stay for 2 or 3 years at the école coranique. Every school has different policies, but they typically only speak to their parents once a week, and they see them perhaps a few times per year.
They spend much of their time memorizing the Quran. At first, they don’t really understand what they’re saying, but they learn the pronunciation and the learn to sing the verses. They keep practicing until the get it perfect, because they are taught that God’s word is perfection and should not be said imperfectly, either by mixing up the words or mispronouncing them. As time goes on, as they learn Arabic, and as they are taught the doctrine, the children begin to understand what the verses mean. At the end of their religious education, the children who have memorized the entire Quran will sometimes have a nuit de Coran, which is when the family and friends gather in the evening, and listen to the child recite the book. It takes hours, and is considered a great and important achievement, bringing recognition and honor to the family.
Often, the children also attend a private, secular school at the same time. Education is important, so the children spend part of the day learning the Quran, and part of the day taking regular classes in math, science, French and sometimes Arabic.
We visited one of these écoles coraniques in Dakar. The children were very excited to see us, especially since we gave them candy! I had brought a whole bag of Smarties, and I ended up handing all of them out. The younger children didn’t really understand French; they hadn’t learned it yet and only spoke Wolof, which I don’t speak well. I knew enough to ask them what their names were and to say hello, though!
We met the school’s founder, and she let us take a picture with her.
Most students at the écoles coraniques are young men, though there are usually a few young girls who attend as well.
They recited part of the Quran for us, and the directors let us take a video: