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.
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.
In addition, Solidar Suisse offers children who have dropped out of school the opportunity to pursue four years of primary education in one of the languages spoken in the country and in French. This Solidar course enables children to gain educational qualifications. With a certificate in their hand, they can start an apprenticeship or continue their schooling.
Yet successful education is not the only issue. Our teaching method also promotes gender equality, involves parents and the local culture and advocates for peace and tolerance. This is particularly important in times of armed conflict and therefore we are currently developing new modules on intercultural and nonviolent communication in the bilingual schools. In addition, we are planning a literacy course and short apprenticeships that young displaced persons can undertake.
«Bilingual schooling is finally debunking the colonialist view that no knowledge can be imparted using African languages.»
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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