Burundi: Keeping schools accessible for better learning
- The socio-political crisis that Burundi went through has changed the landscape of the education sector and increased the challenges to ensure a quality education for all.
- Since 2012, GPE has been supporting the country's Ministry of Education and development partners' work to improve access to quality education, even during crisis times, through several grants.
- GPE's contributions are more than financial, as its partnership approach promotes collaboration and coordination between the different implementing partners, placing the country on the path to transforming its education system.
Burundi joined the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2012 and has received several grants totaling US$115 million to support education programs.
The government undertook major reform of its education system in 2010, which included the introduction of a nine-year basic school cycle that combines the old primary school cycle and the first three years of secondary school.
However, Burundi’s vulnerability to climate risks, the different crises it has endured (including the social and political crisis in 2015, and the COVID-19 pandemic), and its social and economic circumstances have too often impeded the achievement of its education objectives.
The challenges on the road to a quality education for all are considerable. They include poor quality teaching, quasi-exponential growth in the number of students at all levels, driven by a strong demographic surge, limited teacher training, and a lack of infrastructure and teaching materials.
Improving access and education
Benita is in the sixth year of the primary education cycle. She lives in Isare, which is in the province of Bujumbura Mairie, some 30 kilometers from the capital.
She goes to the local youth center on a regular basis, where she takes part in learning and academic support activities provided by the NGO Play International and Libraries Without Borders (LWB) as part of the Twige Neza project, for which Agence française de développement (AFD) is the grant agent. Play International is also involved in the project, along with AFD.
The project was launched in 2019 with US$46.9 million in financing from GPE and implemented by AFD, which is providing EUR 4 million in co-financing. The projects aims to protect education gains and promote partnership dynamics to achieve the objectives of the Transitional Education Plan.
More specifically, the project aims to ensure that students acquire the skills set out in curricula and supports learning activities, with a view to promoting re-enrollment, reducing dropout rates, and enhancing access to basic schools.
Working with local authorities and the education networks, LWB designs and provides a variety of digital learning activities, making them available to children free of charge in the form of Ideas Boxes (multimedia library kits that can be deployed rapidly anywhere and operated with an internet connection) and Ideas Cubes (offline digital libraries that are miniature versions of the Ideas Boxes to provide access to information in remote areas).
“The content choice and selection are made in consideration of the community’s needs and context. We prioritize content in Kirundi and anything that is related to Burundian textbooks and curricula, so that the community can understand it and put it into context,” says Leyre Gil Pedromingo, Program Coordinator for the Great Lakes region at the LWB office in Burundi.
These academic support activities take place mainly in youth centers in four provinces (Bujumbura Mairie, Makamba, Rumonge and Ruyigi). They also include educational play, such as theater, cinema and board games, to stimulate the learners’ creativity. “They are also able to create their own content using such tools as the cameras made available to them,” says Ms. Gil Pedromingo.
“I really like the Ideas Boxes. I use them to watch films about history and to learn math too,” says Benita with a big smile.
Since the start of the program, 27,000 school-age children who are either in and out of school, repatriated, returnees, or at risk of dropping out, have already received support; 2,300 parents and community members have had awareness training and 390 teachers and facilitators have been trained.
The youth center in Isare alone had received more than 14,000 visits between August 2021 and June 2022, with an average of 200 unique users each month, 40% of whom were girls.
This success is due to “very close collaboration with local authorities and a very strong link to education networks, at their own request,” since the schools, “working with the centers, identify the priorities for strengthening the children’s capacities,” notes Sabine Deparde, the Education Program Head at the LWB Office in Burundi.
Supporting continuity of learning during emergencies
The effects of climate disasters, such as the severe flooding that hit the country in mid-2021, have a considerable impact on learning in the affected areas.
The destruction of schools, population displacements, and demographic growth in certain areas (returnees who sought refuge in neighboring countries in the wake of the 2015 political crisis) have accentuated the education infrastructure needs in the host communities.
“I would like to have more classrooms at school, especially to better accommodate the children returning from refugee camps,” says Cynthia Tumukunde, a student at the Kibonde Basic School.
This was the reason for the Program to Support Learning Continuity in Emergency Situations, under which GPE has provided US$9.38 million in financing to help build 103 new classrooms and repair storm damage to 750 existing classrooms. This program is being implemented in collaboration with UNICEF.
Even though Burundi’s schools did not close during the COVID-19 pandemic, students and education personnel were severely affected.
“Some of the students and teachers caught COVID-19 and that affected their attendance and their work. We had to visit their families to reassure them and encourage them to return to school after their recovery. We also had to offer remedial classes so that the students who had been ill could catch up,” says Muheto Wintare Ferdinand, Director of the Bumwe Basic School in the suburbs of Bujumbura.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on learning, UNICEF also worked with the psychosocial and mental health workers platform (PPSM) to provide support for children and teachers affected by the pandemic.
More than 1,300 focal points, including psychologists, were trained and assigned to the schools taking part in the program to provide advanced psychological care when necessary. Special emphasis was placed on preventing abuse and exploitation, including sexual abuse, during periods of crisis and uncertainty that fray social cohesion.
A community-based partnership approach for better results
Even though challenges such as education access, quality, and leadership remain, along with education data collection challenges, Liboire Bigirimana, the Ministry of Education’s spokesperson acknowledged that, “financing from GPE, which is the largest donor of education funds in the country, is making a real difference.”
GPE’s contributions are more than financial; its partnership approach promotes collaboration and coordination between the different implementing partners.
In addition, the community-based approach adopted by UNICEF and AFD, the successful collaboration with the local implementing partners, and the involvement of the ministry, local authorities, and communities, foster ownership of the program by the various stakeholders, thereby preventing potential issues that could arise during implementation and achieving high quality outcomes.
Information sharing about the program between the groups in the sector also prevents overlap and redundant actions by the different partners. This approach ensures that the partners’ various programs complement each other and facilitate government oversight.
Furthermore, strengthening community structures and collaboration between development partners not only fosters sharing of experiences; it also helps build stakeholders’ capacities and equips them with the tools needed to be better prepared to respond to future crises.
GPE will continue to support Burundi on its path to transforming its education system to ensure that all children fully enjoy their right to a quality education.