Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are three of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, according to the United Nations Development Index. School attendance and literacy rates are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. Female literacy rates are particularly low – in fact, less than 20...

Finally able to go to school

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are three of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, according to the United Nations Development Index. School attendance and literacy rates are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. Female literacy rates are particularly low – in fact, less than 20 percent of the women in these West African countries can read and write. Without a primary education, children lack the skills and knowledge required to improve their situation and are likely to remain impoverished for the rest of their lives.

In 2007, the Legatum Foundation, together with Strømme Foundation, launched the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative, a US $4.2 million three-year programme implemented by Strømme Foundation West Africa (SFWA) in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The innovative Initiative aimed to reach over 32,000 disadvantaged children through an accelerated learning programme called Speed School – a ten-month programme that equips out-of-school children with the basic education and skills needed to pass public school entrance exams and enter the formal school system. 

The success of the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative inspired the Legatum Foundation to move the project to Ethiopia in 2011, partly to verify that the model was both transportable and scalable.  


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Strategic Initiative

SECTOR

Education

TOTAL INVESTMENT

US$ 4,288,985

LOCATION

Burkina Faso & Mali & Niger

LIVES CHANGED

34,288

SOCIAL IMPACT INDEX

84.0 (out of 100)

AVERAGE COST PER LIFE

US$ 125.09

Expand All

SI Breakdown:

Key Achievements

 

  • Children equipped to join formal primary schools – 1,210 Speed Schools were opened and operated in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger over the three-year period. 34,288 children were enrolled in these Speed Schools between 2007 and 2009. Of these, 25,569 passed the qualification exams and joined formal primary schools.
  • Parents and community members sensitised on the importance of education – Over 40,000 parents and community members have been sensitised on the importance of sending their children to school and have demonstrated their acceptance of this message by enrolling over 30,000 children in these schools. These parents and community members have also ensured that close to 80 percent of their children continue their education in formal schools.
  • Teachers trained in Speed School methodology – 565 individuals were trained as Speed School teachers. These teachers sign an agreement with the community rather than the supporting NGO or SFWA. This approach makes the teachers accountable to the community, an approach that seems to lead to a better commitment to the community than is witnessed in programmes where outsiders are hired to deliver services to an identified community.

 

The Problem

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are three of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, according to the United Nations Development Index. School attendance and literacy rates are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. Female literacy rates are particularly low – in fact, less than 20 percent of the women in these West African countries can read and write. Without a primary education, children lack the skills and knowledge required to improve their situation and are likely to remain impoverished for the rest of their lives. Statistics show that the futures of uneducated girls are particularly grim: they are more likely to marry young, have children too young, suffer and die from preventable diseases, and are more susceptible to HIV. 

It’s estimated that more than three million school-age children in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are not enrolled in school. Many of them have never attended and have little hope of entering the school system in the future, forcing them to fall further behind. Financial constraints, ignorance of the value of education, long distances to public schools, and the need for assistance with household chores are just some of the many complicated reasons parents keep their children out of the education system.

Solution

In 2007, the Legatum Foundation, together with Strømme Foundation, launched the West Africa Children’s Education Strategic Initiative, a US $4.2 million three-year programme implemented by Strømme Foundation West Africa (SFWA) in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The innovative Initiative aimed to reach over 32,000 disadvantaged children through an accelerated learning programme called Speed School – a ten month programme that equips out-of-school children with the basic education and skills needed to pass public school entrance exams and enter the formal school system.

SFWA implements the programme in rural villages by partnering with local non-profit organisations. Teachers are trained in the Speed School curriculum and paid a salary. Villages – demonstrating their support for the programme – provide a temporary one-room structure that can accommodate around 25 students, and also provide accommodations for the teachers. SFWA provides the curriculum, developed and tested with the help of regional education experts, basic classroom equipment such as desks and a chalkboard, and school supplies for the children. At the end of ten months, the children have completed the programme and are prepared to pass the entrance exam and to be integrated into the local public school system. Once the ten-month Speed School year is over, the programme moves on to other villages and equips a fresh batch of students to re-enter the formal school system.

Critical Analysis

This Initiative provided over 34,000 children with the basic education needed to test into public school at the third or fourth grade level. The programme has contributed to increased levels of literacy among thousands of rural children who had once been shut out of the education system and who would have remained illiterate if this programme had not been offered in their villages. This programme remains a successful and exemplary Initiative that contributes to these three nations’ development by promoting literacy– one of the main pillars of an individual’s and nation’s economic development.

Government support has catapulted these programmes to national levels of acceptance that has translated into an easier transfer of thousands of children into the formal education systems. Among the three countries, Niger has the highest transfer of Speed School students (99 percent) into formal schools, largely due to governmental support. The impressive commitment and support of parents and community members was also a major factor in the success of this Initiative and confirms that real development has to have its roots in the community and can only be attained when the community members are fully engaged in the process and the results that it brings.

SFWA programmes are remarkably strong and efficient. One of the factors that contributed to their strength includes a strong regional team. With SFWA headquartered in Bamako, Mali, they are able to build relationships with implementing partner NGOs and visit the programmes at any time, enabling them to ensure quality control and address challenges within the shortest time possible. The programme’s franchise-like cost structure means that the Speed School model has fixed and variable costs that can be controlled, resulting in better budgeting and allocation of resources per country. As a result, each country delivered the expected results with less than a 5 percent deviation from the allocated budget.

These programmes remind us that good development principles and sound investments are the building blocks of positive life-changing experiences for people, communities and nations.

Lessons Learned

Successes:

Performance – Over three years, the Initiative continuously met its goals of enrolling more children into Speed Schools and transferring them into formal schools in the three countries. Of the three countries, Mali recorded the highest success rate due to its experience in running the schools since 2005, while Niger and Burkina Faso had only run them for two and three years, respectively. 

Community-based and community-led – Speed Schools were established only in communities that showed their commitment by providing the facility and selecting the person to be trained as a Speed School teacher. The SFWA approach of working with communities to supervise the implementation of Speed Schools enabled the programme to reach tens of thousands of children, while allowing SFWA to concentrate on developing quality education and training materials. This approach also enabled SFWA to deliver a standardised curriculum that has been used by all of their partners. 

Government support – SFWA sought and obtained government support in all three countries. This facilitated the transfer of children into formal schools and addressed initial challenges such as the lack of birth certificates by some of the children in Mali. However, this issue still remains a challenge in Burkina Faso and the teams are working to address it by sensitising parents and encouraging them to apply for birth certificates before children are due for transfer into the formal schools. 

Challenges:

Female enrolment rates in Niger – The Niger Speed School programme did not enrol enough female children. Sensitising communities on the importance of education, particularly for female children, has been an obstacle to the success of the programmes in several communities. 

Attendance – Once enrolled in Speed School, regular attendance seems to drop, leading to less than 80 percent transfer rate of the originally enrolled children into formal schools. Parents often keep their children at home to tend to domestic chores and help in farming when needed. 

Migration – The migration of families in search of farm work at the beginning of the rainy season (June) also contributes to the lower number of children sitting for final exams and, consequently, transferring to formal school. To address this issue, the exams are now conducted in early June, before the rains begin, to give children an opportunity to qualify for transfer into formal schools. 

Poverty – The poverty level of some of the parents affects their ability to cover costs related to their children’s education in formal schools. The self-help women savings groups established in most communities with a Speed School are designed to ease this burden by providing the mothers with a source of funding to cover these costs. 

Measuring long-term impact – The Initiative fails to continuously track the successful completion of basic education in the formal schools by the Speed School graduates. This poses a challenge in measuring the success of Speed Schools beyond its ten-month implementation period.

West Africa Speed Schools: Featured Projects

SII ScoreProject NameGrantLives ChangedCost Per LifeSector
84.00 West Africa Children's Education - Stromme$4,288,98534,288$125.09
Note: The Social Impact Index Score reflects the relative social impact of a given development project. The lowest possible score is 20; the highest possible score is 100.

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