Education & Jobs

School attendance

In Mali, schooling is free and compulsory for children between the ages of seven and 16 years.

Going to school in the donkey cart
Going to school in the donkey cart

However, the cost of uniforms, books, supplies and other fees make it impossible for some families to afford an education for their children. And a lack of schools in rural areas means a long way to travel for some pupils.

Pupil attendance is therefore very poor. A quarter of primary-aged children are not enrolled in school. Girls are also more likely to miss out on an education, staying at home to help with the daily workload.

Because of the poor rates of school attendance, less than half of young people in Mali (aged 15-24 years) are literate.

It is now generally accepted that primary school children do best if they are first taught in their mother tongue. Though many teaching materials and textbooks are only available in French, schools in Mali are beginning to teach the youngest children in their local African language.

Local industry

A very special cloth

Bogolanfini (which means cloth made using earth or mud) is a hand-made Malian cotton in demand from international buyers.  The cloth is dyed using traditional methods with fermented mud.

Four-fifths of Mali’s people work in agriculture, mainly in subsistence farming. The country also has many cottage industries, such as those making handicrafts. Mali is especially renowned for its wood carving, pottery, baskets and textiles. These are mainly made for the domestic market, but some items are now being exported.

Despite their many responsibilities, women frequently work to supplement the household income. For example, some women in Mali earn a small wage from making karité or shea butter. Butter-balls are on sale in local markets or collected and exported for the international soap and cosmetics industry.

Where does shea butter come from? Karité trees (Vitellaria paradoxa) are common across Mali. The oil-rich nuts of this tree are gathered and stored in pits by local women. When enough have been collected, the women roast them in ovens or kilns. The nuts are then pounded with a little water and cooked again on an open fire. This produces a chocolate-coloured mixture which oozes oil. The oil is ladled off and when cool, it’s a creamy colour with the consistency of butter.