Basic education in Burundi: Where good policy informs literacy growth


BURUNDI is a small country located in East Africa, with an area of 27,834 square kilometers and a galloping population of almost ten million.

Because of its geographical position, Burundi belongs to communities such as the CEPGL (economic community of the countries of the great lakes), comprising Burundi itself, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda; it also belongs to COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), comprising 19 countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region; and the EAC (East African Community) which it shares with Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Burundi’s main assets include its mountains and valleys and a temperate climate favorable to agriculture– herein some 95 percent of the population lives off agriculture. It rains for almost half the year –against the backdrop of Lake Tanganyika, another of its assets.

The second deepest lake in the world after Baikal in Russia, Lake Tanganyika contains more than 200 species of fish. Back to education, Burundi under the new Government of President Pierre Nkurunziza has, since 2005, established a working national education policy, to which 29 percent of the national budget is allocated, and of this, 50 percent is spent on basic education.

Why basic education? It will be asked. A few years ago, Burundi emerged from the social crises that rocked the country’s economy. Some parents could not send their children to school for lack of school supplies, lack of school fees and lack of food after school, all of which combined to increase the country’s illiteracy rate.

So the children had to work as labourers in the fields with the parents in order to develop their small-holder plots of land; but with galloping demographics-- and the land remaining the same --there is a need to educate children so that they migrate to other areas of life other than placing total trust in the land.

A family of ten children, for example, cannot grow on a 20acre site, particularly because the inheritance after death of the parents always leads to conflict –hence the need to educate young people to do studies that create jobs with their diplomas.

As President Nkurunziza has said time and again, the real property that a young Burundian can have is his degree and the knowledge acquired at school-- which leads him to develop as an individual, and in turn, develop his community.

And, so the literacy rate has increased since the introduction of free school attendance. In 2005, the government introduced free education; No one pays school fees anymore and, with the support of UNICEF, the children of the poor and the Batwa pygmies who were once denied opportunity to get educated were now given notebooks, school uniforms and other school supplies to attend school.

In some schools, school canteens are established where children who live far away can eat without having to return home –which would otherwise cause delays and absenteeism if the child had nothing to eat or had to prepare the food themselves.

Over time, schools were built on all the hills of the provinces of Burundi, with the help of the population in community works, with the help of the Burundian authorities. The whole population is called at the end of the week to do community work.

This work will extend to other days of the week; schools have been erected by the thousands. Today, no child must cross more than 2km to reach school. This has increased en rollment since the 2005-2006 school year.

Enrollment in public schools increased from 3,643 in the year 2,000 to 66,972 in 2013. With its integration into the East African community, Burundi is also integrating itself into the harmonization of the education system.

The fundamental school is born. It is a system that shifts basic education from 6 years to 9 years. Children who can not continue their university or secondary education may be enrolled in professional studies for vocational training.

Young people have benefited greatly because today the number of youth associations has increased and this has contributed to the creation of work without waiting for the public service. Schools of excellence have been created in secondary schools to educate Burundian elite to be trained in key areas of Burundi’s development.

Infrastructures such as hospitals and scientific research centers are being organized to accommodate young people who can do research without going abroad. Challenges ahead Although the literacy rate has increased from 22.5 to 77 per cent between 1979 and 2015 across all primary schools and from 59.3 per cent in 2000 to 67.2 per cent in 2010 for adults, centres of literacy scattered through the municipalities of the country, there is still a long way to go.

The classrooms are built in large numbers in the municipalities and areas of the country, but the enrollment rises from day to day because of the num ber of children born each day.

Thus, the government has instituted a policy of three children per family; sensitization is taking place in this direction, although some remain attached to the African culture which says that the child is the wealth of the family.

Another challenge is insufficient teaching materials and few teachers who can not support a large number of pupils per class, sometimes 150 pupils in the same class, with 3 schoolchildren on a bench.

To this end, the Ministry of Education has undertaken a policy of redeploying teachers. In places where they are numerous, they are moved to fill the gap in other places where they are lacking.

The Burundian government, UNICEF and other national and international organizations, not to mention the Burundian Diaspora, are organizing themselves to provide teaching materials where they are lacking.

It is important to say that the success of a nation is built from Education and culture based brain. Hence, Burundi today is satisfied with the progress made in education despite the challenges.

However, there is still a need to educate girls, because in basic schools they are more numerous than boys and universities have few. This means that the 30 percent that the constitution promises them in state institutions must be gained by a thorough education.

BLANDINE NIYONGERE is a journalist working for the country’s Le Renouveau du Burundi

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