|An overcrowded classroom in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.|
BOBO DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso, 22 June 2006 – Attending school is a challenge for many children in western Burkina Faso. Parents cannot afford the costly fees to enrol their children in private schools. As a result, the affordable, state-owned schools are suffering from severe overcrowding.
Regional Director of Basic Education Ouedraogo Cyr Désiré described what typically happens after summer holidays, even before the schools open: “Some parents are already up at 5 a.m., lining up to get their children enrolled at public schools,” he said.
Schools in Burkina Faso experienced a dramatic rise in student numbers in recent years and were unprepared to deal with the influx. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of students attending public schools increased by 9,172; a year later, Burkinabe returnees fleeing war in Cote d’Ivoire raised attendance by another 15,678.
Students left outside
In the face of this situation, teachers apply ‘the double flow approach’, which consists of splitting children into two separate classes, staggering lessons and using small groups of students to correct their own quizzes.
This short-term remedy is hardly ideal. Often, while one group of students attends class under the supervision of the teacher, others are waiting their turn outdoors, where the temperature can sometimes reach stifling levels.
“One teacher has to go around supervising two class rooms with a noisy atmosphere,” explained a teacher in the Colma area, Zerbo Daouda, shaking his head in despair. “Discipline is so hard to impose.”
Students eager to learn
Last year, UNICEF provided tents to the Colma school for use as temporary classrooms to help manage student overflow. However, these tent classrooms will not be sufficient as the student population continues to increase. UNICEF education head Mamadou Bagayoko said more tents are being provided in the short term and that new schools will be opened in the area over time.
Meanwhile, students are confined to badly lit, overcrowded rooms – an environment known to harbour contagious diseases. Last year, meningitis killed two children from a state-owned school.
Inside Mr. Daouda’s dark and stuffy classroom, children are enthusiastic to learn, despite the seemingly overwhelming conditions.
One student, Karambiri Basirou, 13, forced his way through the crowd and began to recite his lesson. With his arms crossed, he explained that after he and his father fled Cote d’Ivoire and arrived in Burkina empty-handed, he did not expect to be in a classroom at all.
“I’m happy to be able to come back to school again,” he said.