Bilingual Education Programme

Country Profile: Burkina Faso


16,935,000 (2013)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$2 per day, 2009)

73 %

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 29.32%
Male: 43.03%
Both sexes: 36.02%

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 43.24%
Male: 47.56%
Both sexes: 45.43%

Official languages

French (recognised regional languages: Mòoré, Dioula, Fula, Bambara, Dogon, Dagaare, Nanerige, Sucite, Karaboro)

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleThe Bilingual Education Programme
Implementing OrganizationSwiss Organisation for Workers’ Solidarity (OSEO); Government of Burkina Faso
Language of InstructionFrench and national languages
FundingGovernment of Burkina Faso and the Netherlands; Coopération Suisse; Diakonia NGO; Catholic Church; Fund for Literacy and Non-Formal Education (FONAENF)
Date of Inception1994 –

Context and Background

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita income of US$1,200. Agriculture contributes to 32 per cent of its GDP and employs about 80 per cent of the working population while access to quality education remains low. According to UNDP, despite concerted efforts to double its literacy rate from 12.8 per cent in 1990 to 25.3 per cent in 2008, Burkina Faso has the lowest literacy levels in the world. A government-sponsored national evaluation study of the education system (1994) revealed that it was not attuned to the social and economic realities of the country, was costly and inefficient. These problems undermined access to quality education as well as national development efforts. As a result, in recent years, the government and its development partners have made concerted efforts to reform the education system. Part of the solution involved instituting strategies which encouraged the use of both French and national languages as the medium of instruction in schools. The bilingual approach to educational instruction arose out of an awareness of the importance of national languages in the provision of quality education. The Bilingual Education Programme (BEP) was initiated to compliment these policies and efforts.

The Bilingual Education Programme (BEP)


Since 1994, the Swiss Organisation for Workers’ Solidarity (OSEO) and the Government of Burkina Faso through the Ministry of Basic Education and Literacy (MEBA) have been implementing the BEP. The project was initially conceived and implemented as a non-formal adult literacy and rural development programme in aid of small-scale farmers. The success of the adult literacy programme convinced state officials and policymakers to adapt and expand the programme into a broad-based intergenerational education programme targeting all age groups above three years. The BEP is currently linking non-formal and formal education and is being implemented in all 13 regions of the country. It employs French and national languages as the medium of instruction. Principally, the BEP aims to resolve the problems associated with access to quality and relevant education in the country.

Currently, the BEP is technically and financially supported by the Government of Burkina Faso and the Netherlands, the Coopération Suisse, the Diakonia NGO, the Catholic Church, and the Fund for Literacy and Non-Formal Education (FONAENF) for the ALFAA and AFI-D method. The ADEA (Association for the Development of Education in Africa) provides technical and financial backing for the assessment and evaluation of the BEP.

Aims and Objectives

The BEP aims to:

Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The development and implementation of the BEP is based on solid strategies which endeavour to satisfy the literacy and skills development needs of learners. These include the training of teachers and the production of appropriate didactic/instructional materials in the eight major languages. To enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the bilingual approach, teachers in bilingual schools receive additional and specialised language training over and above the standard teacher training curricula.

The development and planning of the programme is based on professional research and needs assessment studies which involve the active participation of all national and local stakeholders including, most importantly, community members who are often sidelined from such processes. Active community involvement in programme development creates a strong sense of ownership and responsibility among the people which makes the mobilisation of learners an easier task. In addition, community members will also monitor the actual implementation of the programme in their localities.

The provision of bilingual education under the BEP is organised according to age groups, reflecting a progression of literacy learning and learning needs from early childhood to adulthood. In line with this structure, BEP is implemented using both the formal and non-formal approaches. The BEP is sub-divided into two broad components: the formal and non-formal basic education. The formal basic education component of the BEP has three age-based levels of learning and instruction for children and young people aged between three and 16 years old and these constitute the age-based bilingual educational continuum:

The Educational Discovery Areas

The educational discovery areas (espaces d'eveil educatif/3 E) is a community-managed early childhood learning project which caters for children aged between three and six years and was conceived to provide a solid educational foundation to children. The project provides stimulating learning environments and formal cognitive, psychomotor, and socio-effective training. At the 3 E level, instructors are voluntary parent-teachers who receive training in early childhood education with emphasis on child psychology, hygiene and nutrition, play activities and early childhood teaching methods.


Curricular development as well as the production of didactic materials for the programme is managed by professionals in infant care and early childhood learning. The curricula integrate national cultural practices in childcare and socialisation with modern practices in the field of early childhood education. In the 2005/06 academic year, the programme had 36 functional 3E centres which catered for 2,832 children, of whom 58.28 per cent were girls.

The specific objectives of this component of the BEP are:

Bilingual Primary Schools

The Bilingual Primary Schools (EPB), which have been operational since the 1994/95 school year, target children aged between seven and 12 years. The major innovative aspect of the EPB project is the use of both national languages and French as the medium of instruction in the learning process as well as the promotion of productive and cultural activities. Pupils attend the EPB schools for four to five years instead of the usual six years in non-EPB schools. In addition, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the EPB system, teachers receive additional professional training in bilingual education and instruction materials are produced in French and the eight major national languages.

The EPB aims to:

The EPB programme is evaluated continuously by teachers and external professional evaluators. But in the 4th and 5th grade, pupils’ learning achievements are assessed using the same rigid methods that are used in non-EPB schools in order to prepare them for the official primary school termination examinations. The monitoring and evaluation process of the bilingual primary schools involves several actors and institutions:

Special Multilingual Secondary Education (CMS)

Special multilingual secondary schools accept learners aged between 12 and 16 years old who have successfully completed their EPB courses. At CMS, learners extend their knowledge of the national languages and French. In addition, they also learn a second national language chosen from the dominant languages in Burkina Faso. The CMS schools are innovative in that – in addition to the standard secondary school curriculum – they also provide specific courses in national languages, as well as in cultural and production-oriented activities (livelihood skills training). To enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme, teachers in multilingual schools receive special training in the national languages and functional English, as well as in culture and production issues.

The CMS project endeavours to:

Intensive Functional Literacy for Development (AFI-D)

AFI-D, a non-formal and intensive literacy training for development programme, was integrated into the BEP in 1994. The programme targets out-of-school children and young people aged between nine and 14 years who have either not attended school or have dropped out of the education system. Training under the AFI-D programme lasts four years and is offered in both the national languages and French.

The AFI-D programme has many benefits for trainees/learners. It gives them an opportunity:

Adult Non-Formal Literacy Programme (ANFLP)

Under the ANFLP, lessons are conducted in both French and national languages. The ANFLP is an integrated project which links literacy learning to rural development and is therefore organised and structured to meet the specific socioeconomic and livelihood needs of adult learners, most of whom live in rural areas. To this end, the programme focuses on technical skills training in: agriculture (livestock rearing, crop farming, and market gardening); basic financial management and book-keeping; health education and the organisation and management of individual and/or group socioeconomic activities. Such an approach to literacy empowerment has enabled parents to improve their living conditions as well as to assist their children in undertaking their school work.


With regards to literacy training, young adult and adult learners attend French classes which use the ALFAA method of teaching French based on functional literacy. The ALFAA method enables learners to reach a standard equivalent to the 6th year of standard primary education. The principal goal of such a strategy is to enable adult learners to use their acquired literacy and livelihood skills to improve their living conditions as well as to empower them to effectively monitor their children’s schoolwork through enhanced bilingual skills.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

The BEP has achieved major accomplishments which have had strong and positive impacts on the entire education system as well as on the quality of life of the beneficiaries. The following are key indicators of the impact of the BEP.

The bilingual approach to education has proved to be more cost effective and efficient than the normal system. For example, a comparative study by Korgho (2001), revealed that bilingual schools are less expensive than normal schools: the average unit cost of educating a holder of the Primary School Certificate (CEP) at a bilingual school in Nomgana is 455, 388 CFA francs (US$922, 373) compared to 3,879,396 CFA francs (US$7, 857, 723) – a difference of 3, 424, 008 CFA francs (US$6, 935, 357).


Challenges and Solutions

The effective implementation of the programme has been hampered by the following challenges:


The sustainability of the BEP is based on strong partnership that has been developed with governmental and non-governmental organisations as well as with local communities and professional researchers. Such partnerships have enabled the programme to benefit from local moral support as well as a wide range of technical expertise and financial support systems.

Lessons Learned

The following main lessons have emerged from the programme:


A major lesson that emerged over the years is that, the use of local languages as the medium of instruction in schools and training enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of the learning process. In addition, the bilingual approach to education enhances the language acquisition abilities of learners. Most importantly, for a poor country like Burkina Faso, the approach reduces education costs and thus enables parents to support the education of their children.



Paul Taryam Ilboudou
Oeuvre Suisse d’Entraide Ouvrière (OSEO) Burkina Faso
01 BP 2057 Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso
paultaryam (at)

Last update: 19 July 2010