Religion and Education
Islam and its institutions help to integrate Comoran society and provide an identification with a world beyond the islands' shores. As Sunni Muslims, the people follow religious observances conscientiously and strictly adhere to religious orthodoxy. During the period of colonization, the French did not attempt to supplant Islamic customs and practices and were careful to respect the precedents of Islamic law as interpreted by the Shafii school (one of the four major legal schools in Sunni Islam, named after Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, it stresses reasoning by analogy). Hundreds of mosques dot the islands.
Practically all children attend Quranic school for two or three years, starting around age five; there they learn the rudiments of the Islamic faith and some classical Arabic. When rural children attend these schools, they sometimes move away from home and help the teacher work his land.
France established a system of primary and secondary schools based on the French model, which remains largely in place. Comoran law requires all children to complete eight years of schooling between the ages of seven and fifteen. The system provides six years of primary education for students ages six to twelve, followed by seven years of secondary school. In recent years, enrollment has expanded greatly, particularly at the primary level. About 20,750 pupils, or roughly 75 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in 1993, up from about 46 percent in the late 1970s. About 17 percent of the secondaryschool -age population was enrolled, up from an estimated 7 percent fifteen to twenty years earlier. Teacher-student ratios also improved, from 47:1 to 36:1 in the primary schools and from 26:1 to 25:1 in secondary schools. The increased attendance was all the more significant given the population's high percentage of school-age children. Improvement in educational facilities was funded in 1993 by loans from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the African Development Bank. Despite the spread of education, adult literacy in 1993 has been estimated at no better than 50 percent.
Comoros has no university but post-secondary education, which in 1993 involved 400 students, is available in the form of teacher training, agricultural education training, health sciences, and business. Those desiring higher education must study abroad; a "brain drain" has resulted because few university graduates are willing to return to the islands. Teacher training and other specialized courses are available at the M'Vouni School for Higher Education, in operation since 1981 at a site near Moroni. Few Comoran teachers study overseas, but the republic often cannot give its teachers all the training they need. Some international aid has been provided, however, to further teacher training in the islands themselves. For example, in 1987 the IDA extended credits worth US$7.9 million to train 3,000 primary and 350 secondary school teachers. In 1986 the government began opening technology training centers offering a three-year diploma program at the upper secondary level. The Ministry of National Education and Professional Training is responsible for education policy.
As elsewhere in Comoran society, political instability has taken a toll on the education system. Routinely announced reductions in force among the civil service, often made in response to international pressure for fiscal reform, sometimes result in teacher strikes. When civil service cutbacks result in canceled classes or examinations, students have at times taken to the streets in protest. Students have also protested, even violently, against government underfunding or general mismanagement of the schools--the World Bank stated in 1994 that the quality of education resulted in high rates of repetition and dropouts such that the average student needed fourteen years to complete the six-year primary cycle.
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