Free Education in Burundi: Ten Years Later

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BURUNDI — Burundi suffered its fair share of political and ethnic violence since its independence in 1961. While much of the turmoil has ebbed in recent years, education was badly wounded in the crossfire. The civil war that ended in 2005 left a quarter of schools destroyed.

There was one positive outcome, however, primary education in Burundi for children aged seven to 13 became free. Education still faces many challenges but 10 years later, fantastic progress has been made for primary students.

In the aftermath of the 2005 civil war, President Nkurunziza made primary education free. While this did not negate all barriers, fees were an incredible obstacle for the 40 percent of unschooled children. Because of this and other improvements, enrollment rates rose dramatically to 90 percent in 2014.

Sadly, that same year, a mere 25 percent attended the next seven years of secondary education. Literacy rates for adolescents rose steadily from 20 percent of women and 40 percent of men in 1980 to 88 percent in 2005. This marked significant progress for literacy and closing the educational gender gap, but the rate did not improve over the past decade.

Stability has long been a challenge, Burundi’s government has faced many upheavals: two genocides in the 20th century, two civil wars and a failed coup in reaction to President Nkurunziza’s controversial third term in 2015. It is important to note that unlike the Rwandan genocide, there has been an encouraging lack of civilian-on-civilian ethnic violence.

Unfortunately, all the strife that destroys schools are the reasons that they are most needed. Many children suffer from either exposure or implication in violence. Schools provide a safe space vital for skill-development and mental well-being. They draw comfort from the routine, as well as support from teachers and students. Stability in the lives of children is the first step to a stable future for Burundi.

Despite the high enrollment rates, Education in Burundi faces many challenges. Primary school for children aged seven to 13 is free, but some were never rebuilt after the civil war. This resulted in classroom overcrowding and inadequate equipment. Secondary education still remains unattainable for the majority. Because of school fees and lack of transportation, rural and poor children simply cannot continue.

Other groups have taken an interest in Burundian education. UNESCO created a program that provided holistic support to allow participants to go to school rather than beg or work. The nearly 3,000 children and families are not burdened by decreased income by being provided with shelter and food.

Private organizations like Burundi Education Fund and Global Concern Classroom, have been improving teacher training, infrastructure and resources in schools.

Education in Burundi has a long way to go. Secondary education enrollment remains extremely low and literacy rates have plateaued. However, the 30 percent improvement in primary education enrollment is phenomenal. Removal of fees and the hard work of people inside and outside the country have given children the valuable opportunity to attend school and solidify a peaceful future.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

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