Volunteer teachers combat illiteracy in Burkina Faso

A UNV Volunteer teacher conducting a small class of children in Burkina Faso, Africa.
A UNV teacher conducts a small class of children in Burkina Faso, Africa. Photo: UNDP

The school year started off poorly for first-level elementary students in Lolonioro, a village located in the heart of the bush in southwest Burkina Faso.

Following the maternity leave of their teacher, the 67 pupils were unable to start lessons at the beginning of the official school year in September 2008.

Highlight Title

  • Of the Burkina Faso National Volunteers Programme's (PNVB) 250 volunteers, 80 have been recruited to work in primary schools.
  • The net primary school enrollment rate in Burkina Faso increased from 34.9 to 57.9 percent between 1997 and 2008.
  • Burkina Faso allocates over 60% of its total education expenditure to primary schools.

"The children were behind by a month and a half when I arrived," says Bibata Compaoré, a volunteer teacher who has been in charge of the class since November 2008.

Burkina Faso has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, and a school enrollment rate of only 39.1 percent. Adults account for more than 70 percent of Burkina Faso's illiterate people.

As a result, Burkina Faso has a severe lack of teachers at the primary school level. Throughout the entire country, school year interruptions and large class sizes – sometimes more than 120 pupils in one classroom – are common.

To tackle these issues, more than 80 volunteers have been recruited throughout Burkina Faso to work in primary schools.

These young Burkinabè have all been trained at the National School for Primary School Teachers. While awaiting the ‘integration’ test that enables them to become qualified teachers, they work as volunteers for the new Burkina Faso National Volunteers Programme (PNVB).

The PNVB, which is financed jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Volunteers Programme and the Government of Burkina Faso, is aimed at enlisting volunteer services to help Burkina Faso achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to PNVB coordinator Hélène Agnelli, the programme is a response to Burkina Faso's crucial need to increase literacy rates in the country, which are a key component of Burkina Faso's MDG achievement.

"A considerable proportion of the population of Burkina Faso is illiterate and at the same time a considerable number of individuals who are trained, skilled and available to work are not valued. It is in this area that the PNVB plays an important role," she explains.

The programme has a total of 250 volunteers who work not only in the field of education, but also in health, decentralization, economic development and environment. Following the PNVB’s pilot phase from 2006 to 2010, the Government of Burkina Faso took full control of the programme.

In addition to helping Burkina Faso attain the MDGs, the PNVB is also giving volunteers essential practical experience, says Agnelli.

“These volunteers make a significant contribution to their country and gain work experience which, I hope, will stand them in good stead when it comes to passing the integration test and finding salaried positions.”

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