SEATTLE — Since the release of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world’s collective gaze has fallen on global education. Creating equal access to quality education for children worldwide is of the utmost importance, and particular attention has been paid to African nations in recent years.
One such nation is Burkina Faso. In the West African country with a total population of 18,727,766, approximately 49.7 percent are men and 50.3 percent are women. Among them, 45.8 percent are under the age of 18.
The state of education in Burkina Faso is a point of national and international contention since the country’s literacy rate is among the worst in the world.
Approximately 36 percent of adults in Burkina Faso are illiterate. According to the CIA World Factbook, the only countries with lower literacy rates than Burkina Faso are Niger, South Sudan and Guinea.
The fact that almost 50 percent of the total population is made up of people under the age of 18 makes the issue of education particularly alarming. Although primary education between ages seven and 13 is technically compulsory, getting children to enroll has proven to be a challenge.
Roughly 32 percent of Burkinabe children of primary school age were out of school in 2014 according to UNESCO’s most recent report, which is about 5,992,885 children in total.
According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the country’s educational system faces four main challenges. The first roadblock, which is common in developing nations, is the low enrollment of girls.
The role of women and girls in Burkina Faso is largely seen as being secondary to that of men and boys. Girls in the educational system are forced to fight an uphill battle against socio-cultural norms that traditionally limit them to carrying out domestic roles. Marriage in Burkina Faso is still very much transactional, with wives treated as property.
The systemic devaluation of women and girls tends to shuffle prioritization away from getting them into classrooms. As of 2015, only 29.3 percent of Burkinabe women over the age of 15 were able to read or write.
Beyond that, children are often barred from access to education in Burkina Faso when they live in rural areas, come from low-income families or have to deal with physical disabilities.
Geographical issues create the bulk of challenges against the Burkinabe educational system. In the words of Jean-François Kobiané from the University of Ouagadougou, “Living in a rural area, for example, is more damaging to a child’s schooling than is being a girl.”
Roughly 90 percent of Burkinabe people live in rural areas, which poses significant problems for education in Burkina Faso. Chronic malnutrition runs rampant in rural regions, and when people have little to no access to basic necessities like food, electricity and healthcare, prospects for schooling are grim.
Fortunately, volunteers from organizations like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) are working to improve education with an integrated approach. This organization’s involvement the Sector Program for Education and Training, which is set to run until 2021, takes these challenges into account.
GPE’s primary goal is to create inclusive access to education that will eventually help all citizens contribute to the social and economic development of their country.
It plans to do so by increasing access to education and training, improving educational quality, increasing monitoring of the educational system and bringing non-formal education to underserved regions.
By definition, non-formal education is that which is “designed to serve those who have gained least from formal schooling.” This particular approach is fitting, given the state of education in rural regions across the nation.
Although volunteers will focus time and resources on bolstering the formal educational system through monitoring and more efficient training, this focus on non-formal education arguably has the greatest growth potential.
GPE aims to make access to primary education in Burkina Faso universal by 2021 and make 10 years of education compulsory by 2025. Compulsory education laws have proven ineffective in the past, but the implication that such legislation is on the horizon is promising.
The organization plans to integrate healthcare into the educational system since that is also sorely lacking in rural regions.
In both formal and non-formal classroom settings, there will be a push to help students strengthen analytical capacities and gain practical skills that will help them in day-to-day life. The hope is that this focus will give people the knowledge they need to improve their living conditions.
To date, GPE efforts have contributed to an increase in gross enrollment ratios across the board in Burkina Faso.
Since beginning the Sector Program for Education and Training in 2012, gross preschool enrollment has increased from 3.5 percent to four percent. Gross primary school enrollment has increased from 81.3 percent to 81.7 percent, and gross post-primary enrollment from 36.7 percent to 40.2 percent.
Although a contemporary snapshot of education in Burkina Faso shows that there is much work to be done, it is worth noting that the nation has made great strides since gaining its independence from France in 1960.
At that point in the country’s history, gross primary school enrollment was just seven percent. By 2003, that number had risen to 37 percent, all the way to 64 percent in 2012 and 83.7 percent in 2015. While the trajectory is not quite as extreme in its pitch as it once was, the promise of universal education in Burkina Faso is alive and well.
– Madeline Distasio