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Burkina Faso

Burkinabe communities struggle to support early childhood education centres

© UNICEF video
Young children crowd into a community-built early education centre, known as ‘bisongo’, in Burkina Faso.

By Jean-Jacques Nduita

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 26 June 2007 – It is school time in the Ouagadougou suburbs. Little children sitting in a ‘bisongo’ – a community-based learning centre supported by UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services, a US-based non-governmental organization – are writing numbers on their individual slates.

Five-year-old Emilienne Dabgo proudly holds up her slate. “Great, good job. Well done,” her teacher says.

Emilienne’s work has inspired the other children to emulate her, even though most of them are only three years old.

Teaching in the local language

In Ouagadougou and many others Burkinabe cities, children between the ages of three and six can now enrol in pre-school education through structures such as this bisongo. These centres aim to prepare youngsters for entry into primary school. Children in the bisongos get not only an education but also a midday meal – something of a rarity for schoolchildren here.

In addition, teaching at the bisongos is done in Moore, the local language spoken in this part of the country, as opposed to French, which is official language of Burkina Faso.

© UNICEF video
Children at the bisongo receive a much-appreciated midday meal.

“Children learn their lessons better if they are taught in their mother tongue rather than in French, which is generally not spoken in most homes,” says the supervisor of the Yamtega Bisongo in Ouagadougou, Juliette Ouédraogo. “Yet the bisongo approach does not necessarily exclude French from its programme; the children are taught at least some rudiments of it.”

Challenges to early education

While they provide definite benefits to the community, bisongos also pose some serious management challenges. As community-based schools, they do not benefit from any subsidy, making it harder for them to fulfil their mission and ensure quality education.

Community members maintain the schools through a monthly contribution of $1 to $2 per household, but in this country’s hardship-plagued regions, food – let alone money – is a commodity many often go without. In fact, the teachers at the bisongos, affectionately referred to as ‘little mothers’, generally do not receive their small, symbolic salary on a regular basis.

Still, bisongo coordinators are determined to take up all the challenges associated with early childhood education here and ensure that the joy of the children in the centres will not be eroded by financial problems. They have pledged to do their best in the hope of receiving more support so that Emilienne and the other young children of Burkina Faso can achieve their dreams.




UNICEF Correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on community-based early education centres in Burkina Faso.
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