Interview. On the occasion of International Education Day on January 25, Dah Gilbert, Early Childhood Project Manager in Burkina Faso, tells us about the education of toddlers in his country in the context of Covid-19.

We know that the first confinement interrupted the schooling of more than 20 million children in kindergarten in Africa for 6 months.During this period, digital tools were developed around the world to prevent school dropout. According to you, did this innovation work in Burkina Faso?

Digital tools already existed in Burkina Faso before the pandemic, to support students in high security challenges areas (terrorism). This program has been expanded to reach more children. Innovations are based on TV and radio education. But also on the creation of a digital platform «Fasoéducation». But having the equipment to follow distance education remains a challenge. The most disadvantaged do not necessarily have access to a computer, electricity, internet.

The Ministry of Education has developed a response plan and, in particular, issued a communication plan on Covid-19 at the start of the school year for teachers and students of all levels. It explains the disease, how to prevent it, and how to control its spread.

For our part, we continued our project Mémoire d’Éléphant (Elephant Memory) project in 25 new schools in the east of the country.  With this project, children are made aware of the importance of washing their hands and have playful devices available in schools to respect this essential barrier. They also talk about it at home, which is a snowball effect. As paradoxical as it may seem, the whole country has nevertheless achieved a success rate in the various exams which is significantly higher than the previous 2 years.

  • And these innovations, did they also concern the pre-school in Burkina?Yes, audio activities were pre-recorded for toddlers and broadcast on radio, as well as on the digital platform for the benefit of parents. They were able to continue with their children activities of speech, storytelling, pre-reading or even mathematical awakening.
  • What was the role of teachers in Burkina Faso, in kindergarten and primary school, during the period of school closure? The teachers prepared the courses and the radio and television programs. Without them, it would not have been possible. It is also the mobilization of all teachers that has ensured the holding of exams at the end of the school year and the resumption of classes in smaller groups, in order to respect the barriers.
  • Should we reassure Burkinabé parents or convince them to send their children back to school? Yes, with a pre-school rate of 5.2% in 2019, it is undeniable that various actions must be taken to improve the education of children in kindergarten.
  • And tomorrow: Do you think that this crisis will sacrifice generations of small school children in Burkina Faso? Sacrifice, I do not hope… But this crisis may have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and the general level of pupils.

19 January 2021