Togo: Inside a school without tables or chairs


Schoolchildren in the village of Amato in Togo do their best to learn what they can in class, despite not having even the most basic facilities. Since the school was founded 20 years ago, the number of pupils in attendance has soared, yet there still aren't any tables or chairs for them to sit on.

Outraged by the situation faced by Amato's schoolchildren, Oscar, an activist who works for an NGO that focuses on Togo's development, sent us his photos of the school. He's decided to take a stand against his country's crumbling education infrastructure.

A class of schoolchildren in Amato. Photo sent by our Observer.

"Only the head teacher has an official state job, the other teachers have to be paid by the parents!"

In Amato, the primary school was launched back in 1994, but the building promised by the authorities was never built. As a result, it's a shoddy DIY job. There are five classrooms: some have walls made from straw, and others don't even have walls, only roofs. Roofs are built from either sheet metal or straw. In either case, it means that the school isn't properly sheltered from the outside. So when it rains, all the pupils go home. During the summer rainy season, there are hardly any classes for three months!

Some classrooms are right next to each other and they only have half-built clay walls to act as dividers. So it's easy to hear the teacher next door giving a lesson, which is extremely distracting.

Amato's school. Photo sent by our Observer.

In the first and second grade classes, children don't even have tables and chairs. They have to follow lessons sitting on wooden beams built from chunks of wood. When I visited, the head teacher showed me what the school had been given: they had a few notebooks, but what's the point when pupils don't even have tables on which to write? In third grade, the pupils have benches, though they’re crammed five to a bench. You have to wait until fourth and fifth grade to finally get chairs and tables.

Schoolchildren with their teacher in front of the school. Photo sent by our Observer.

"There isn't even a canteen. There are women who turn up during break time to serve the children food, but you have to pay for it"

When the school was inaugurated, it had around 50 pupils. That number has now risen to almost 200 because more and more children are attending school. But in order to properly educate them, we need more resources. Only the head teacher has an official job, the other teachers aren’t employees of the Education Ministry and have to be paid by the parents.

The problem is that the village is tiny and very poor, so the parents hardly have anything to pay the teachers. Most people who live here are illiterate and impoverished.

Some children are even forced to sit on the floor during lessons. Photo sent by our Observer.

There isn't even a canteen. There are women who turn up during break time to serve the children food, but you have to pay for it. Out of 20 pupils, only about three will have enough money to buy food. The others wait until the end of the school day and eat at home. On top of that, there isn't a fresh water supply in the school. There are women who bring containers of water, but it all comes from the nearby river, so it's brown and unclean.

The water that the school's pupils drink. Photo sent by our Observer.

These dire conditions have pushed several families to withdraw their children from the school. Many students drop out along the way. As for the well-off families that have the means to pay the transportation fees, they send their children to better schools in neighbouring villages.

The path leading to the school. Photo sent by our Observer.

In Togo, several schools in the poorest areas of the country are in similarly dire conditions. Only schools partially funded by NGOs have new, well-maintained buildings and facilities.

FRANCE 24 contacted the inspector tasked with overseeing schools in Amano's constituency, but he did not want to answer our questions.

According to a recent report by UNESCO, in Togo, after an average of six years in school, 28% of adults still don't know how to read. What's more, even though attendance rates have soared five-fold over the past ten years, 7% of children still don’t have access to basic education.