Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Burkina Faso: Koranic vs. state schools

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 22 April 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Burkina Faso: Koranic vs. state schools, 22 April 2009, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

OUAGADOUGOU, 22 April 2009 (IRIN) - In Burkina Faso's predominantly Muslim northern region known as the Sahel, fewer than half of the some 150,000 school-aged children are enrolled in primary school versus the national average of 72 percent. Despite state efforts to boost participation in formal education, families in the north send their children to evening Koranic schools, or no school at all.

"Religion has a certain power in our culture," said Judithe Tapsoba, the director general of basic education in the Ministry of Education. "Parents will all too quickly opt to send their children to study prayer because religion is the core of these communities."

Some 300km north of the capital Ouagadougou, the provinces of Soum, Séno, Yagha and Oudalan lag far behind the national literacy average of 28 percent, according to 2003 government data.

At Koupel school in the Sahel region, four students took the qualifying exam in 2005 to continue to secondary school ? none passed. Two years later at the same school, eight students took the exam ? one passed. At schools in Séno province that provided data, eight percent of the some 200 students who took the exam scored high enough to continue schooling.

Tapsoba said the state has improved and expanded classrooms in a bid to attract more students, but with meagre impact. The number of schools in the Sahel increased from 327 in 2004 to 1,549 in 2009, but education director Tapsoba told IRIN children still abandon formal schooling.

At the Kirgou school in Yagha province, an initial enrolment of 150 students in October 2008 has dwindled to 50. At the neighbouring Kollakoye school, all 46 students dropped out before the end of year. The teacher was assigned to another school.

School directors told IRIN some parents pull their children out to work as farmers or pastoralists, while others' distrust toward state-sponsored education grows stronger as the year proceeds.

Parents in the region generally trust Koranic schools more, said the director of basic education in Yagha province, Diallo Idrissa. "They think if they entrust their child to workfor and make the [religious leader] marabout rich that this will open up the way to paradise."

Toward the second half of the school year, classes have on average fewer than 10 students, said Tapsoba. "This makes us ask: what strategy [will work] to get parents to understand the necessity of formal schooling?"

Delayed gratification

Low primary school attendance has resulted in more early marriages and children working in farming or gold-mining, according to primary school director Boureima Sawadogo. Ministry of Education official Tapsoba told IRIN child labour provides more immediate results than schooling. "Activities like [farming] and raising livestock provide immediate concrete results whereas with schooling, you have to wait six years or more before the child is productive."

The only instant gratification is school meals funded by the US government and non-profit Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in all schools in the Sahel, said Oumarou Nourridine with the Association of Parents and Students in Oudalan. "These meals given only to girls has multiplied the number of female students. Parents know the girls will at least bring home food rations to share with the family." Dambam school director Pagbelgem Pegdwendéle told IRIN in his school of 168 students, 100 are girls.

But he said while free food drives girls' enrolment, boys are still pulled out of school, possibly to te nd to animals.


Muslim religious leader Ismaël Kiendrébéogo with the Association of Muslim Students in Burkina Faso told IRIN that Muslim parents in the north are worried their children will lose their religion in the formal school system, which people have associated with Christianity since the time of French colonisation.

He added that though state schools are nominally secular, Catholic students form religion study groups on school grounds. "We should create similar opportunities and trainings for Muslim students. For example, devote at least one day a week to learning Islam and the Koran in a formal structure," Kiendrébéogo told IRIN.

Evening Koranic classes currently run two hours, ending at 8p.m, and do not include literacy training. While the Education Ministry's Tapsoba said there is no official count of such classes, there are approximately 1,000 private Franco-Arabic schools that teach both the formal school curriculum alongside Islam.

She added that the state will reach out to religious leaders with the following message: "Religion can flourish through formal education because [a child's] world is broadened. In order to oversee the growth of a religion, one needs to know how to read and write."


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