One of my favorite former students, Priscilla Gomes, is now working as a technical adviser to PASEC in Senegal. PASEC stands for Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems and, amongst other things, it has just published an assessment of primary education in 10 Francophone Sub-Saharan Countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad,Congo,Côte d’Ivoire,Niger,Senegal andTogo). It was quite an undertaking, involving about 40,000 students and almost 2,000 schools.
Here is an executive summary of what they found, entitled “Education System Performance in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa: Competencies and Learning factors in primary education.” The summary is worth checking out in full because the results are really interesting. What most caught my eye though was some good news about a country that has seen very little good news of late: Burundi.
Overall, the study found that “70% of early primary pupils are below the “suficient” threshold in language” in these 10 countries. Burundi stands out in two ways:
- “the language of the test, which is also the language of instruction (Kirundi) is familiar to pupils, and
- almost eight in ten pupils achieve the “suficient” threshold in language, and seven in ten pupils achieve the mathematics threshold.
The results also show that student results in language and math are highly correlated. That is, “whatever the country, pupils and schools that are successful in language achieve high scores in mathematics, and vice-versa.”
I have always found the language of instruction to be an interesting issue in human capital formation. One of my earliest articles studied differences in economic development across British and French former colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa. I found that ex-British colonies tended to have higher levels of education and hypothesized that it might be because British colonial policy was to train native educators to teach in the local vernacular.