Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Schools in Burkina

Going to School in Burkina Faso,

I have told you that schools here are very different from those in the USA. The first thing to understand is that most of the people here do not speak French at home, but a local language, based on their ethnic group.  Where I live most of the people are Mossi, the largest ethic group in the country, with about 40% of the population in this group. They speak Mooré at home so many of the children start in the first year of school knowing no French at all. In other words, in first grade, you not only have to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, you have to learn these things in a new language.

The primary school consists of the first six grades, followed by a nationwide test that you must pass (the CEP) in order to go on to the next level, called collège here. If you do well and get to go to the collège, you are there for is the next four years.  This is called the first cycle, and they name these grades in the French style, sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième, (that is, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd). After troisième there is another big test, the BPC.  If you pass that, you can go on to the Lycée for the second cycle, where the grades are called second, premier and terminal (2nd, 1st, and final). Actually there are many places where the Collège and Lycée are on the same campus and people refer to them together as the Lycée. At the end of this you again have to pass a national test called the BAC. In other words, there are 13 years of school, so it is not surprising that study at the university is only three, rather than four, years for a bachelor’s degree.

Only the first six years of school are a free,public education.  Even though they are nominally free, there are school fees you have to pay, as well as school supplies to buy.  For this reason families must sometimes chose which children to send to school.  If there is a choice between a boy and a girl, traditionally the boy is chosen.  The reason for this is that the boys will stay with the parents when they finish school, build a house nearby, and be there to help support them in their old age.  When girls get married, they join their husband’s family, so educating them does not seem like a good investment for the parents. In fact, I have been told that when a baby is born, traditionally you ask, not is it a boy or a girl, but is it a member of the family (boy) or a stranger (girl, who will end up in another family). The federal government here has passed a law that all children between 6 and 16 must attend school, and the number of children going to school has increased.  In the early grades there are about the same number of girls as boys. Failing a grade, or “redoubling,” used to be quite common. That often lead to students as old a 16 being in the primary school and people decided that was not such a good idea.  Now students seldom repeat a grade more than once or twice in elementary school.  The result is that many do not pass the CEP test to get their certificate saying they have a basic education so they cannot go on to collège.

There are government supported and private collèges and Lycée. Here in my village there is the Lycée for the department, kind of like a school district, and two private collèges.  The reason for the private collèges is that there are a limited number of place in the public school, so not all who have passed the ECP can attend.  The lycée takes those with the best scores on the test, and the parents have to pay a fee for the students to attend. Students with lower scores can go to the collèges if they can afford the fee, which is higher than the government support schools, but even there seats are limited and the best students are chosen. If you can’t get into the collège or if you are forced to drop out for some reason, there is the possibility of going to night school. Again there is a cost associated with attending classes.

The classes here are not at all like American schools.  I want to show you some pictures of the schools so you can see for yourself what they are like. This is a typical classroom at the Lycée. 

Empty Classroom
Typically there are three students at each desk. Here is one full of students:

Students in Class
Students in this school are in the same seat in the same room all day, every day.  The teachers move from room to room. Class sizes are huge by American standards.  At the Lycée here, collège classes have between 75 and 85 students in each class. In the upper levels classes are a bit smaller because fewer students qualify, but there are still 40 to 50 students in each classroom.

Blackboards are pieces of wood painted with a special kind of paint.  There are no blackboard erasers.  Chalk is removed by washing the board with water and a sponge, and the teacher may write on the board when it is still wet, making it kind of hard to read. 

Painted Wood Blackboard
For the Lycée, school starts at 7:00 in the morning and goes until noon.  There is a three hour lunch break when students and teachers can go home for lunch and a rest during this hottest part of the day.  There are classes again from 3:00 to 5:00 three days a week.  Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are reserved for sports and physical education. At this school there are no Saturday classes, but the schedules may be different in other towns.

The schedule for primary schools is different.  Classes officially start at 8:00, but students typically arrive about 7:30 and clean the classrooms and blackboards before the teachers arrive. Classes are from 8 to 12 with a half hour break at 10:00.  There are also classes in the afternoon, from 3 to 5.  There are no classes on Thursday, but there are classes from 8 to 12 on Saturday.

Because the weather here is never cold (never below 65 degrees) and there is only rain between June and October, school rooms open directly onto a courtyard.  Windows do not have glass in them, but are closed with the metal shutters you see in the pictures. In some schools these shutters can not only be opened to let in light, but the whole window can be swung out, to let in as much air as possible.  The walls are built of cement blocks or mud bricks.  The roof is corrugated sheet metal. 

In this picture of the Lycée campus, if you look carefully, you will see some sheep wandering through the school yard.  The trees are a typical part of every school yard.  They provide shade, which you appreciate year round.  They are also a part of the effort toward reforestation, which I will probably tell you about in a future blog.
School Campus, with Sheep
 In the next picture you can see the usual mode of transportation for students here, old fashioned one speed bicycles.  In the big cites, for students from families who have more money, students may ride motorcycles.
Here is a picture of the outside of the school library.   

 Here is a picture of the inside of the school library.
Library Interior
Yes, those are the ONLY books in the library. Students can come in to look up information, but you cannot check out books, and there is no town library either.

All quite different from the USA!

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