UNICEF Resident Rep. Says Gambia Faces Learning Crisis


Which Could Jeopardize Country’s Development If Unaddressed

By Ndey Sowe

Gordon Jonathan Lewis, the UNICEF Gambia Representative, said like most developing countries, the Gambia faces a learning crisis which if left unaddressed, could jeopardize the country’s development.

“We must urgently reverse the situation by investing in an education that builds basic reading, writing and math skills, as well as competencies in problem solving and critical thinking that young people need, to be productive. We must invest in building the skills of teachers and motivate them to teach more effectively,” Lewis indicated.

Gordon Jonathan Lewis made these remarks as part of activities marking 75 anniversary, when the world came together to create the UN Children’s Agency to support and secure the lives of children affected by World War II.

UNICEF which was founded on the principle that no child, no matter who they are or where they come from, should not be subjected to violence, abuse or neglect, is committed to galvanize efforts to build a world where every child can survive, thrive and reach their full potential.

And for 75 years, UNICEF has stayed true to this cause, and has championed child rights in the Gambia and around the world for decades.

‘‘As we celebrate this historic milestone, we are also reminded of the promise we made to children 32 years ago, when the world adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In ratifying the Convention, the Gambia committed itself to put the best interests of children first in everything it does.  Children and young people are Gambia’s most treasured resource and they will lead the next generation that will usher in change and build the future that every Gambian aspires,” Lewis stated.

Building that future he said, requires urgent action by the Government and its partners and the local communities, to improve the quality of education, make vaccines available for every child, invest more in the mental health of children and young people and scale up efforts to address climate crisis; stressing that with more than 78% of primary school-age children in School, Gambia has made gains in making education accessible to children across the country. However, he also added that for many children, being in school does not equal to learning.  

Lewis said making vaccines available and accessible to every child helps protect them against diseases such as measles, polio and smallpox, and enables them to grow healthier and perform better in school.

“The Gambia has an impressive vaccination record and we must work together to sustain it. We must invest more in the procurement of vaccines, improve cold chain facilities and combat misinformation that is driving vaccine hesitancy. In tandem, we must do more to reduce wasting and stunting among young children and scale up programs and policies that guarantee the nutritional health of every child,” he said.

He said digital technologies are revolutionising the way children communicate, learn and socialise, adding that many children and young people view staying online as huge risks. Lewis said 84% of respondents in a recent U-Report poll, “think online sexual harassment and bullying is a problem for children and young people in the Gambia”; that yet, even beyond the digital platforms, children and young people are increasingly becoming anxious about the future.  

“It is time to protect and care for children’s mental health and to integrate their mental health into primary health care. This must be accompanied by a strong policy framework that ensures all children live free of violence, abuse and exploitation,” he said.

In another U-Report poll, close to 50% of young people in the Gambia, said rains and floods were the biggest climate change related challenges that their communities faced, and 50% said that reduced food production was the biggest threat to their livelihoods. He said this is strong evidence that the climate crisis will be a permanent feature in the lives of Gambian children if urgent action is not taken.  

“It is time to address the climate crisis, scale up investments in climate adaptation and resilience, and strengthen children and young people’s participation in climate decisions. So, on and beyond our 75th anniversary, our promise to every child is to never give up on you; to continue listening to you and to provide you with the platform to amplify your voices and to demand the protection and fulfillment of your rights. In upholding our promise to you, we will never give up,” Lewis vows.