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The Republic of Benin, or simply “Benin,” is a country in West Africa with a total land area of 42,000 square miles. The country shares borders with Niger to the north, Togo to the west and Nigeria to the east. The capital city of Benin is Porto-Novo, although the country’s largest city, Cantonou, serves as the government seat. Its climate, which can best be described as tropical sub-Saharan, plays a major role in the country’s largest economic sector: agriculture—a field in which, according to records, an overwhelming percentage of Benin nationals is employed, with the majority of people deriving their income from subsistence farming.
Benin has a permanent population of roughly 9 million, and is fairly homogenous in terms of ethnicity, with over 80 percent of residents who self-identify as ethnic Beninese. Smaller minority groups in the country consist of those who hail from the neighboring countries of Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Burkina Faso, along with other West African nations. The official language of Benin is French, a language that is used in all official capacities, including government, public communications and education, although indigenous languages, including Fon and Yoruba are more commonly used in informal settings. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in the country, followed distantly by Islam, Vodun (an indigenous religion), and Protestantism.
Benin has a unique culture and a rich literary and musical history. Well before French became the official and dominant language, novelists like Felix Couchoro, who wrote the first Beninese novel entitled L’Esclave in 1929, were borrowing from the oral folk stories passed down from generations. Following independence from France, Benin became home to an innovative and vibrant music scene, one that combines folk music with elements of French Cabaret and American Rock to produce an upbeat sound of funk and soul. Exotic dishes are the norm in Beninese cuisine, and consist of staple foods like fish and chicken combined with a host of spicy and flavorful sauces.
Education in Benin
What once was a pay-to-attend system under the French, education is now free in Benin through high school and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 11. The Republic has a system similar to that in France, in that it includes 6 years of primary school, 4 years of junior high school and 3 years of senior high school. Primary school is the only compulsory level of education, after which attendance rates tend to drop off sharply in many non-urban areas of the country. Following the first four years of junior high school, students are required to take an exit examination, which also serves as the entrance or placement examination into senior high school. Benin is also home to 5 vocational schools, where secondary and post-secondary level students can train for careers important to the Beninese economy, especially agriculture.
Higher education in Benin is provided by a few comprehensive universities, at which students can obtain Bachelor and Master’s Degrees, spanning 3 and 4 years respectively, in a variety of academic disciplines.
Despite recent efforts to improve the quality of education at all levels and to increase access for students who reside outside of major urban areas, Beninese participation in the country’s school system is very limited, in fact, dismal following primary school. This is perhaps best evidenced by the country’s adult literacy rate—40%--which is among the worst in the world.