Transforming schools for girls’ success in Côte d'Ivoire

26 January 2021


A group of Ivorian students smile for the camera.

In Côte d'Ivoire, gender parity declines significantly with education levels and the gaps widen, particularly at the secondary level. But for Sekoué Jeanne Kopieu, a participant at the first IIEP-UNESCO Dakar University on gender-sensitive educational planning, educational inequalities do not stop there.

As a history and geography teacher for more than 12 years, Kopieu used to ask young girls what they would like to do when they grow up. Too often, the same answers came back: nurse, hairdresser, or seamstress. "Yet there are other worthwhile paths to follow. These narrow aspirations limit educational opportunities and fuel occupational inequalities. We need to rethink the school environment and look at how girls are oriented so that they have every chance to succeed.” While national examination results show that girls are doing as well as boys, far fewer girls are still oriented towards promising fields such as science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Although Kopieu left the classroom in 1995 to join the central administration, her commitment to promoting gender equality and the success of all learners has not changed: within the Directorate of Gender Equality and Equity of the Ministry of Education of Côte d'Ivoire, she now acts as Deputy Director of Capacity Building for Monitoring and Evaluation.

A strong supporter of gender equality, Kopieu is convinced that it is a matter of law and that "equality fosters peace, social cohesion, and development," issues that are particularly important for a country that suffered almost two decades of civil conflict.

"Reflecting on my career and my progress, I realized how much the right to education transforms you. It is liberating and empowering. If I hadn't gone to school, I wouldn't have the chance to work today and be independent.”

Today, the Ivorian government has made education a priority and has approved the gender equality policy of the Ministry of National Education, Technical Education, and Vocational Training for 2020. "In addition, substantial reforms are expected, including the upcoming construction of 80 colleges and two sections of the Ecole Normale Supérieure [a higher education institution] where the issue of gender equality will be mainstreamed at all levels," explains Kopieu, adding that this issue is monitored by the Prime Minister's Office.

Engage the whole educational community

To achieve lasting change, Kopieu believes in a holistic approach to transforming school environments. The educational community as a whole must be sensitized to respect girls, and codes of conduct – applicable to all staff and students – need to be developed and disseminated. "More female staff should also be appointed to protect girls and talk with them about their concerns, so that girls find a safe space in school and the opportunity to express themselves on issues that they may not have the opportunity to discuss at home."

At the school management level, progress is encouraging: the number of head teachers has increased from 20% in 2010 to 42% in 2020 in general secondary education. According to Kopieu, school management plays a crucial role: "It is up to them to encourage and instill in the school a dynamic of mutual respect - between teachers and students, as well as between students, girls and boys - which allows girls to be more motivated to succeed at school and to engage in non-traditional subjects."

Sensitizing school staff to gender issues is more than ever a concern of the Directorate of Equality and Gender Equity of the Ministry of Education, which welcomes the initiatives of the Directorate of Human Resources. Following the job reference framework, this Directorate has adopted a plan for the ongoing training of ministry staff, including school heads. One of the modules selected and delivered as part of the operationalization of this plan is devoted to gender issues in educational and career guidance.

About the 2020-2021 University on gender responsive educational planning

Organized as part of the Gender at Centre Initiative, this free training course is designed for planners and managers involved in French-speaking African countries. Based on an interactive and practice-oriented learning approach, the course is part of IIEP’s efforts to reduce gender inequalities in education. 

Participants who successfully complete the course will gain a thorough understanding of gender equality issues in and through education, and can analyze the different factors that cause gender disparities. They will be able to identify and analyze relevant indicators and data sources, and explain the policy planning process. Finally, participants will be able to identify concrete strategies and actions to address gender disparities, including their costs, implementation timelines, and methods for evaluating and monitoring impact.