bilingual education

There are 59 languages spoken in Burkina Faso. In order for children to be able to follow their lessons, they need to be taught in their mother tongue as well as in French, the language of the former colonialists. For a long time this did not happen, but in recent years Solidar Suisse’s educational projects have been changing this. Bilingual education is now being introduced as standard practice across primary schools in Burkina Faso. 

Poor children who lack prospects 

For decades, regular school teaching in Burkina Faso was provided in French, a language that few children speak. Children from poorer families in particular fell behind because of this and could not keep up with lessons. Over half of 6 – 16-year-olds do not go to school or have dropped out of education. This situation is exacerbated by the armed conflict in the northern part of the country. Over 2,000 schools had to be closed and many families fled to other parts of the country, taking away 300,000 children’s chance to receive an education. 

Child in a cotton field in Burkina Faso Child in a cotton field in Burkina Faso

Child labour is often an important source of income for poor families. © Andreas Schwaiger

Two languages, better education  

Children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue. In the 1990s, Solidar Suisse developed the model of bilingual education – children should be taught in both French and in their mother tongue. This approach of bilingual education is now being offered in numerous state and Catholic primary schools.    

Serving as a role model 

The successful learning experience of Solidar's educational institutions impressed the government. In 2007, it took on the model of bilingual education for all children. A lack of resources hindered the implementation in parts, so Solidar Suisse held a round table with the NGOs actively involved in this area and supported the government with its implementation of the bilingual education system. 

Over 250 bilingual schools have now provided education to over 35,000 pupils. The education ministry has integrated promotion of the country’s languages under its remit and set up its own secretariat. As the project was implemented nationwide, it has served as a role model for other development projects. In 2016, the project was named one of three ‘best practice’ examples for education in an analysis conducted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. 


Bilingual schools offer education for over 35,000 children. The Solidar project was so convincing that the state adopted the model.

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