The national literacy rate is 30 per cent for males, and 15 per cent for females. Only about 40 per cent of children go to primary school. And just nine per cent continue to secondary school. Schools are usually in a reasonable condition and have basic equipment, but there are not enough of them and, in any case, many childrens parents cannot afford to send them. Parents have to buy exercise books, pens, and pencils as well as pay school fees. Legally the size limit for one class is 65 children, but in many rural areas classes are much bigger because there are not enough schools. If a school is full, some children cannot get a place and they have to stay at home and try again the next year.
The school week runs from Monday to Saturday lunchtime, and the school is closed on Thursdays. Lessons are taught in French, the countrys official language, which is many childrens second or third language, especially in rural areas. It is estimated that only 15 per cent of Burkinabè can speak French; instead they use local languages such as Mooré and Dioula. At school the pattern of lessons is set by a national curriculum which timetables each subject for each year group, so that around the country children of the same age are always studying the same subject at any given time. Subjects include Production, where children might learn to grow maize, plant trees, or keep chickens on school land. The children have a break during the hottest hours between noon and 3pm, when they eat lunch, play games and have a siesta.
Recently a number of laws have been passed in an attempt to make it easier for disabled people to have an education and to take an active role in society. Often parents can only afford to send one child to school, and able-bodied children are educated rather than their disabled siblings. Some of the laws are intended to provide school fees and other help so that disabled children can get an education.
disability and education
Angèle Sanou, who is herself disabled, founded the Disabled Womens Association in Burkina Faso. Angèle was lucky because her parents made sure that she went to school. Many disabled children in her country do not get the chance to go to school, either because their parents think it is not worthwhile, or cannot afford to send them.
"Disabled people are among the most disadvantaged in Burkina Faso," she explains. "You could say that among disabled people we have almost 100 per cent illiteracy. In a family, it is the disabled child who will miss out on school. With an education, you still cannot find work as a teacher, or a civil servant. Employers look at your disability, not at what you are able to do. Even in the law, there is discrimination. Thats why I created the Disabled Womens Association.
"We emphasise the need to educate disabled children and their parents. In Burkina Faso children with mobility problems can go to mainstream schools. But we feel that deaf and blind children need special schools, because this is the only way to ensure that they have special facilities. Adult literacy is also important, because so many people have missed out on education, and are still missing out. Women are particularly disadvantaged. Firstly they are disabled, secondly they are women. They find themselves obliged to work in the informal sector.
"When I was young, disabled people were almost unknown, unseen. Having a disabled child shamed a family and they were kept hidden. It was thought they had been punished by God, or were the victims of witchcraft before they were even born. They were simply a burden on the family, and spending money on their education was seen as a waste. Now parents are learning the importance of school, and they send their children if they can.
"We want to sensitise the whole population, but most of all we have to sensitise disabled people, who feel they are inferior, and their families. We use radio, TV, newspapers, and posters to raise awareness. We have to remind people that we exist, and that we have rights. Education has empowered me to defend my rights."
Photos for Oxfam GB by Crispin Hughes
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