Curricula analysis in Francophone Africa

In 2007, the PASEC program has commissioned a curricula analysis for Francophone developping countries. The PASEC is the Program for the Analysis of Education Systems of CONFEMEN created in 1991 within the Francophonie . See their website here. In French.

What is beeing taught in the classrooms of Francophone Africa? Are the official instructions followed by teachers? Are there significant differences in national programs between countries?

The objective was to identify a common set of skills, as a base for the developemnt of new assessment tests. This work has been performed by the University of Liege (AsPe) and National Institute for Education and Action for Development in Senegal (INEADE), a technical adviser PASEC (your servant), a young statistician and national PASEC teams. Focus was on the fifth year of primary education and on the French language and mathematics.

The analysis method and process

Previous curricula work has been done by several organisaions. The International Bureau of Education (UNESCO IBE) stores a database and a set of documents on curricula. ADEA has also worked on the place of national languages in the curriculum. An analysis of global curricula is underway within the Institute of Statistics of UNESCO. But this was the first time a comprehensive review of curricula was conducted in francophone Africa with this level of details.

The national program, textbooks and teacher’s guidebook has been analysed. The originality of the PASEC work were questionnaires designed to inform teachers classroom practices (implemented curricula). A quantitative approach was used to « measure » the curriculum and establish the distribution by teaching fields, educational objectives and cognitive processes targeted by both the official instructions and in classrooms. Analysis grids were built upon the work of IEA, the OECD and the French Community of Belgium. Teachers were also asked to correct proofs of students and what evaluation questions (exercises) they were using with their students, which was chosen as the key measure for the implemented curricula.

The curricula tornado in Africa

Since the making of the PASEC tests in the 90’s, curricula in Africa have changed considerably. The competence based approach has been promoted and adopted by many countries but its integration into the teacher training programs and the classrooms is not fully effective. This educational approach is widely discussed in Africa, see an overview (in French) by Xavier Roegiers or the paper by Jean-Marc Bernard (in French).

The analysis reveals large between countries differences in areas covered by the national curricula. The results were presented to Ministers of Education by Michele Lejong at the 53rd Ministerial Conference in Caraquet in June 2008. All documents are in french. See here the three comprehensive powerpoints, presenting the approach, tools and results with recommendations. The key findings are presented below.

Between countries variation in curriculum

In French language, an agregate of the teaching fields was set to ease the presentation of results with the following definitions :
• « formal learning » : tools in the service of written and spoken language out of context (spelling, grammar, conjugation, vocabulary, writing, reciting, rhymes and songs).
« Non-formal learning » on the specific aims of the language: reading, writing, speaking, listening

Countries that have already implemented the competency-based approach like Mauritania, Benin and  Madagascar, among others, seem to focus more on non-formal learning in the official program, but it is not systematic –see Congo. In mathematics, the cognitive processes mobilised vary greatly, the problem solving is sometimes absent or in negligible amount in the official programs in half of the countries. The analysis also showed a significant differences between the programs and textbooks. Cognitive processes of low-level taxonomy (according to Bloom) are common in the official instructions but what happens in classrooms? Do teachers’ pedagogical practices follow the recommendations of the Ministries?

Gap between official instructions and teachers practices in classroom

Five countries have collected information on curricula in the classroom : Benin, Cameroon, Madagascar, Niger and Senegal. The graphs below shows the distribution of evaluation questions by subject and comparison with the official curriculum, french language.


Teachers assess their pupils at 83% on « formal learning », which occupies only half of the official program. The graph shows a clear gap in the  weights of reading and grammar fields. This may be related to the content of national examinations which remains the main objective of teachers and which are often based on formal learning.

Similarly in mathematics, a big difference between the curricula lies in the place of problems solving. The reasoning is virtually absent from the cognitive processes (1%), but the problem solving process weighs 18% of mobilized skills, although virtually absent from the official programs.

In French language and mathematics the situation is very heterogeneous within the same country and there are large variations among teachers.

The place of reading in classroom practice

It is necessary to focus on the role of reading in the official programs and classroom practices, as a foundation for more complex skills (reading to learn). Out of the 150 teachers surveyed, half spent less than two hours of teaching reading in class, while the geometry roughly occupies four hours of instruction for almost all teachers. Geometry might be here simple drawing.

This unsufficient time spent for reading might result in little reading skills for pupils as noted in several EGRA studies. See the EGRA Senegal report, or read my post for Mali.


Michele LEJONG finds that the failure of some teachers in the school system generates strong  social inequities. Based on the factors of pedagogical effectiveness established in the literature (see Verspoor) and the results of its analysis, she recommends to :

  1. « Increase instructional time by implementing (central) standards to respect and support measures by local steering ;
  2. Identify priorities in the program (give tags to teachers. Provide a collection of situations) ;
  3. Increase the level of teacher training, particularly through distance education or other in-service training . Interactive radio has a positive effect on performance ;
  4. Improve quality of teachers by providing well-constructed manuals and teaching guidebooks ;
  5. Train and mentor teachers to diagnose errors and omissions in the responses of students ;
  6. Make available textbooks, teaching guides that focus on certain skills such as lesson sequence, formative assessment testing, error analysis, with text dealing with  various issues and high-level taxonomy processes ;
  7. Given that the guidebooks are very popular among teachers, they must become a major vehicle for changing teacher practices and must include : variety of situations, consolidation or improvement of knowledge on teachers, indications on how to deal with students situation and
  8. Train teachers to expert solving problems and to construct assessment tasks on the aims of language ».

From political and scientific perspectives , this work deserve to be better exploited.

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