The Sahel: Education against the odds

In the Sahel region, the effects of climate change, with rainy seasons becoming less predictable, more powerful storms, floods following heavy rains, and drought conditions for months at a time, mean that thousands of people can suddenly be affected and lose their means of existence. There are currently more than 10.5 million children and youth out of school, and more than half a million refugees and internally displaced.

The presence of terrorist groups and militias, the most notorious being Boko Haram, is making it hard for communities living where these groups operate to lead normal lives. All of this impacts education: schools are destroyed, teachers attacked, children abducted. People must move to find safer places to live and parents may keep their children home from school so they can help the family survive (fetching water, selling goods) or because they are afraid to send them to school.

"In Burkina Faso, education in the Sahel Region was not easy before, but now it has become even more challenging. A number of education facilities in the north have been targeted. Teachers have been traumatized. Schools have been closed… If I had one message to convey it is that now, more than ever, we need education. Those who are doing these things want to suppress education, and if they are successful, they win." - Secretary General, MENA (Ministère de L'Éducation nationale et de l'Alphabétisation), Dr. Yombo Paul Diabouga

"In the past these people attacked police stations and gendarmerie. Now there are attacks on schools. Why are they doing it? We don’t know. Maybe they want the whole education system to collapse? If you destroy a country’s education system, everything will collapse. Where a school is attacked it is the return of ignorance because people run away. It is the return of darkness." - Marius Zoungrana, Regional Director for Preschool, Primary, and Post-primary in Centre-Nord Region.

In many Sahel countries, accessing education is not a given for too many children, especially those living in rural areas. But for girls, the challenge can be even greater. They face cultural barriers, from early marriage to restrictive gender norms that dictate girls should stay home to take care of other children and do chores. When girls become adolescents, if they’ve had a chance to complete primary school, they may not continue to secondary school. Parents may prefer to pay the school fees for their sons and keep their daughters at home. Lack of toilets and water in schools mean that even those who can go stay home during their periods.

Deme Hatimi, 21, is a first-year teacher at Madrasa Nourdine in Burkina Faso. In much of the region, there is a severe lack of qualified teachers. It is difficult to get them to come to isolated areas, and the security situation further deters them. Most teachers there are not from the region and are young, inexperienced and unfamiliar with the language, culture, livelihood and lifestyle of the nomadic students they are teaching.

Yakouba Sawadogo is the director of Tanlouka Primary School, Boussouma, Centre Nord Region in Burkina Faso. He was previously posted at a school in a remote and difficult part of the Sahel, in an area "frequented by traffickers and highway men. There is no mobile network, and no clear road to go there so it’s easy to get lost. You have to cross the Beli River to reach the school—and if the boat isn’t there, you have to swim across. Housing is poor—usually a mud house constructed by the community. And where there is no housing for the teacher, they live in the classroom, dividing it with a curtain so they sleep on one side, teach on the other."

"Female teachers are never posted to these schools," says Sawadogo, "because it’s really difficult—even for the men. Most ask to leave after just one year."

"At the start of each school year, we would do social mobilization," says Sawadogo. "Teachers would visit houses to enroll the children. So things would be okay at first. You might have 20 or 30 students in your class, but as time went by more and more would drop out. By the fourth or fifth year, out of the original 30 you might have only five left. We need a strategy to keep students in school."

In Burkina Faso, the Sahel region lags behind the rest of the country. "Nationwide, the enrollment rate is 71.1% in primary. In the Sahel it is 46.9%. In post-primary, the gross enrollment rate 25% nationally and in the Sahel it is 8.1%. In secondary school, nationwide it is 15% and in the Sahel it is 2.6%. These figures are very telling and frightening indeed." - Amadou Sidibe, Franco-Arab Bilingual Primary Education Support Project (PREFA).

GPE is working with the government of Burkina Faso on infrastructure in remote areas, teacher training, Franco-Arabic schools, and reaching those who are out of school in remote areas. "GPE funding represents 70% of all external funding that we receive for education. This funding has made it possible for us to invest a lot in education." - Dr. Yombo Paul Diabouga, Secretary General, MENA (Ministère de L'Éducation nationale et de l'Alphabétisation).

Learn more about GPE's support to Burkina Faso

Photo credits: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso


The Global Partnership for Education Secretariat is headquartered in Washington DC and has approximately 100 staff. The Secretariat provides administrative and operational support to all its partners including...

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