Private Catholic Education in Senegal

by Moustapha Tamba, Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal

Private Catholic education remains prominent today in Senegal. In 1816, the colonial administration entrusted the teaching of French to the Church, in particular to congregations such as the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny, the Brothers of Ploërmel, the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, and the Daughters of the Holy Heart of Mary. In the twentieth century, after the Second World War, the development of Catholic education took a decisive step forward under the impetus of Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, Vicar Apostolic from 1946 to 1960. Other congregations settled in, such as the Brothers of Saint Gabriel, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the Ursuline Sisters, the Sisters of Saint Charles of Angers, and the Marists.

After independence in 1960, the Church entrusted teaching to the National Directorate of Catholic Education in 1970. In 1976, a national coordination structure was set up, today replaced by a National Secretariat. Since 2003, private Catholic education has been constituted as an association called “Office national de l’enseignement catholique du Sénégal” (National Office of Catholic Education of Senegal).

However, private Catholic education has been decentralized through the creation of diocesan directorates. There are seven dioceses, each having its “Direction diocésaine de l’enseignement catholique” (diocesan directorate of Catholic education) or Didec. By delegation of the diocesan bishop, the diocesan director is responsible for all Catholic schools in a diocese.

To conduct this study, we turned to those responsible for Catholic private education, in particular the head of the diocesan directorate of Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Dakar and the Secretary of the National Office of Catholic Education of Senegal, to obtain quantitative data. Both offices are located in the S.I.C.A.P. Baobabs district of Dakar opposite St. Peter’s Church, where we conducted a documentary survey using the archives made available to us. The results of the study are presented in the form of cross-tabulated or double-entry sorting tables.

Table 1: Distribution of Catholic schools at the different educational levels in 2018-19

DIOCESE Preschool Elementary Middle Secondary TOTAL %
Dakar 58 54 23 14 149 48.5%
Thiès 22 24 3 1 50 16%
Kaolack 12 13 2 1 28 9%
Ziguinchor 11 15 8 1 35 11%
Saint-Louis 8 6 3 1 18 6%
Kolda 6 6 3 1 16 5%
Tambacounda 4 5 1 1 11 4.5%
TOTAL 121 123 43 20 307 100%

Source: National Office of Catholic Education of Senegal, March 2019.

Table 1 shows that the Archdiocese of Dakar alone accounts for nearly 50% of the total number of schools. It is made up of two apostolic regions, the first including Le Plateau, Grand Dakar-Yoff, and Les Niayes, and the second including the Sine and Petite Côte. In total, the archdiocese is made up of 41 parishes. The dioceses of Thiès and Ziguinchor represent 16% and 11% of the institutions respectively. The dioceses of Kolda and Tambacounda have fewer institutions.

Table 2: Distribution of students in private Catholic schools at the different educational levels in 2018-19

DIOCESE Preschool Elementary Middle Secondary TOTAL %
Dakar 6,442 36,304 16,467 6,696 65,909 57%
Ziguinchor 2,268 5,735 1,856 491 10,350 9%
Thiès 1,983 11,080 2,665 836 16,564 14%
Kaolack 1,441 5,326 733 248 7,748 7%
Saint-Louis 970 3,519 1,212 262 5,963 5%
Kolda 656 3,465 958 245 5,324 4.5%
Tambacounda 417 2,630 479 143 3,669 3.5%
TOTAL 14,177 68,059 24,370 8,921 115,527 100%

Source: National Office of Catholic Education of Senegal, March 2019.

The Archdiocese of Dakar is leading, with 57% of the total student population. According to statistics from the Didec, the urban area, especially Dakar and its suburbs, has a total of 25,360 pupils in elementary education while the rural area (Petite Côte and Sine) has 10,944 pupils. At the middle education level, the Archdiocese also maintains its rank with 14,002 and 2,465 students respectively in 2018-19 in its urban and rural areas. In secondary education, the Archdiocese remains first, concentrating 75% of the overall number of students enrolled in the private sector. The Collège Sacré-Cœur remains the largest private Catholic school, with a total enrolment of 1,059 students in 2018-19.

Moreover, according to the Didec of the Dakar Archdiocese, there are at all levels more students of the Muslim faith than of the Catholic faith. For example, at the elementary level in 2018-19, 72% of pupils are Muslims, 26% Catholics, and 2% of other faiths. This is evidence of interreligious dialogue between the Senegalese.

In conclusion, it may be said that the spread of private Catholic education has historically been ahead of public and secular education. In the nineteenth century, it was already present in the four municipalities of Saint Louis, Gorée, Dakar, and Rufisque. And it can be found today across the entire country, though most of the infrastructure and student enrolment are located in the Archdiocese of Dakar, which includes all the parishes of Dakar, the Petite-Côte, and the Sine. Another interesting fact is that most of the students in the private Catholic education sector are Muslims rather than Catholics.

Direct all correspondence to Moustapha Tamba <>

Senegal, Volume 9, Issue 3

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