You are currently viewing Francophone Africa vs “Francophone” Asia : following the same path ?

Francophone Africa vs “Francophone” Asia : following the same path ?


Here is a comparative picture of the dynamics of schooling in Francophone Africa and “Francophone” Asia  countries  (Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam).

The term “Francophone Asia” is a misnomer because the proportion of French speaking people is low and this is not the official language. The term “Francophone Africa” is in turn widely used because French is the official language, guaranteed by national constitutions, although the population in Africa, in everyday’s life, do not “abuse” of the French language …

Francophonie has developed the project Valofrase, which supports the teaching of French language in Asia through bilingual classes. Until now, the political support to the French language still remains focused on Africa. However, demographic & economic conditions as well as cultural and linguistic diversity parameters are alike in both geopolitical spaces.

Where stand the dynamics of schooling? In Southeast Asia, were the socialist past and the colonial influences, from whatever source, swept away by globalization and harmonization of education policies? Are cultural differences between the two continents capable to influence the trajectories?

The figures quoted are from UNESCO 2008 Education for All monitoring report or from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and focus on primary education.

Alike the “brothers” countries of Africa, Asian countries have an important cultural and linguistic diversity. The geography makes it difficult to access certain areas on both continents. South East Asia has been the battleground for influence between China and the U.S. in particular, and wars were among the deadliest of the second half of the twentieth century. Entire regions have long been polluted by anti-personnel mines, and the stigmas of wars and genocide are still visible in the flesh and minds.

In demographic terms, the growth rate of the Asian population is slightly lower than the French-speaking Africa, notably Vietnam (1.3%), where life expectancy is also higher (73 at birth). From a strictly economic perspective, both “geopolitical spheres” are comparable in terms of wealth per capita, although the rates of economic growth in Asia Francophone are on average higher than those of Africa, but shall not equal those of China and other Asian countries. These countries have suffered from an economic crisis (1997), which has slowed down their efforts to achieve universal primary education. During the same period in Africa, structural adjustment programs brought a halt to recruitment in the public and caused teachers’ shortage.

Most of the Francophone Asia population is literate (over 70%), which is not the case in Africa. The Francophone countries of Asia received an aid by inhabitant in a level close to francophone Africa, representing 27 US$ per capita for Vietnam, 35 US$ for Cambodia and 46 US$  for Lao. In Francophone Africa, this indicator varies from 28 US$ for Gabon to 92 US$ for Senegal, according to UNESCO (2008). With regards to basic education, international efforts have also benefited the Francophone Asia since 2000 but still below Africa’s level, if one compares aid per child of primary school age. The share of national income devoted to education spending has more than doubled between 1999 and 2005 in Cambodia and Lao (about 2%) but remains well below levels observed in Francophone Africa.

Enrollment rates have increased and repetition decreased: from 25 to 14% between 1999 and 2005 in Cambodia,. These high repetition rates are not found elsewhere in South East Asia and Pacific, with the exception of Tuvalu (10.7%) and are a “Francophone specificity“.  Asia drop out rates are lower than Francophone Africa but remain desperately high in the early years of education (almost 10%). Unlike the French-speaking Africa, where the evolution of the gross enrollment rate is partly due to increased participation of private sector, in Asia this is the pure result of public policies and social demand. Indeed, the educational provision for  primary education remains mostly public in Francophone Asia (over 98%), which is probably a legacy of the socialist ideology.
The ratios or students per teacher follows contrasted trends between the three Asian countries studied. This ratio increased from 33 students per teacher in 1991 to 53 in 2005 in Cambodia, telling that teaching conditions have deteriorated, but remained unchanged in Lao and declined in Vietnam. As in Africa, more women get a teacher job and girls have a better access to education. Although national definitions prohibit comparisons between countries, the share of trained teachers is greater in 2005 than in 1999 and exceeded 80%. We can assume a different trend between the two continents in terms of recruitment and management of teachers. Indeed, in Africa, the proportion of teachers without initial training is very high and recruitment conditions have been generally lowered.
The items below are a summary of facts published by UNESCO in its EFA Monitoring Report 2008 which give us an idea of the educational reforms under way in Asia.

  • Cambodia has developed strategic plans 2000-2005 and 2006-2010, directed towards a sector wide approach based on decentralization and the provision of budgets into schools. To increase enrollment, the strategies are based on management of lasses or pedagogical groups, namely the multigrade and double shift. For girls’ education, awareness & advocacy campaigns were conducted through NGOs. The curriculum takes into account gender issues, life skills including HIV / AIDS. Bilingual pilot programs were put in place for ethnic minorities as well as incentives for the deployment of teachers in rural and remote areas. The automatic promotion (no repetition allowed) has been established but not yet fully implemented, according to statistics.
  • In Lao, a law introduced free basic education in 2000. Ethnic minorities issues have been placed under the authority of the National Assembly. Since 2004, development of education is partly based on community participation. Curricula have been revised since 2001 as the initial and in service training of teachers, including contract teachers.
  • In Vietnam, the strategy is consolidated in an EFA plan 2003-2015 based on decentralization of powers and the “vigorous” mobilization of teachers and the social corps. In many respects it is similar to Cambodia and is based on strategies of classroom management, namely the multigrade and double shift. Bilingual pilot programs were put in place in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities as well as incentives for the deployment of teachers in rural areas. A comprehensive evaluation system was implemented in schools. The allocation of textbooks has been improved through the development of private edition.

Many readers of French-speaking Africa will recognize themselves in this portrait of measures for the Education for All in South East Asia. In many ways, the education indicators follow similar patterns from Africa in their evolution, driven by donors at first glance. These countries thus share the same dynamics of education systems, noting the virtual absence of a private education sector in Francophone Asia. Those are macro considerations, we are less equipped to make comparisons about what happens in classroom and what the teaching looks like. However, brief visits to African and Asian schools show different functioning particularly the discipline matters, and the general school climate. The two pictures above give an idea.

The challenge now is to educate the poorest children or ethnic minority and achieving gender equality, while maintaining quality in a context of scarce resources for education. Asian countries have an relative or “comparative” advantage to Africa : the language of instruction (Khmer, Lao, Vietnamese), is spoken by a majority of the population. However, in Asia, the ethnic minorities issue is perhaps even more complicated and sometimes directly related to participation in the years 60-70 conflict, as illustrated by the case of the Hmong people.

The disparities are reflected in access to education according to UNESCO (2010):

“In Cambodia’s most disadvantaged provinces, Mondol Kiri and Rattanak Kiri, large concentrations of hill tribes live in remote areas with high levels of poverty. Fewer than one out of three residents aged 17 to 22 have more than four years of education . These outcomes reflect the combined effects of poverty, isolation, discrimination and cultural practices, as well as policy failures in education. ”

The francophone newspaper “Cambodge Soir” gives us further insight:

“For all ethnic not “khmérophones” minorities the same problems arise: little access to education (provided in Khmer language), few health facilities, and problems of land acquisition. Again, the economic development by foreign companies or guided from Phnom Penh, is by no means a guarantee of survival of these “archaic”cultures.  In these provinces, they are outdated as perceived by the Khmer’s. Besides The term “Phnong, is pejorative – the equivalent of peasant in France.”

This story does not tell us whether Phnong are treated as “peasants” because they never had any education or if they were deprived because they were considered “peasants”. It’s the eternal question of the chicken and egg!

In Vietnam, the use of Vietnamese, the official language, is a key factor in reading skills, and therefore differences are expressed in terms of access but also learning outcomes:

“Language, ethnicity and regional factors can combine to produce complex patterns of disadvantage. In Viet Nam, a large-scale survey of grade 5 students in 2001 found strong disparities in achievement among provinces, with school location and students’ socio-economic background and ethnicity also having a strong influence (World Bank 2004). Ethnic minority students who spoke no Vietnamese at home were much less likely to read ‘independently’ than those whom home language was Vietnamese. ”

More info on Vietnam in the eye of international organizations and development agencies: read a paper from UNESCO or the World Bank.

The Vietnam and Lao have introduced a local part in the curriculum, about 20% of teaching time. This is one solution among others.

Francophone Africa and Asia face similar challenges. Asian countries do not seem to have a high specificity compared to Africa despite their communist history. Nevertheless, the private sector is not very active, at least in primary education, and evaluation methods are very specific, for instance in Vietnam (importance of behavior, peer review …). Are the past policy orientations, the socialist ideology, really able to bring these countries on a diverging path from that followed by Africa? What and how international organizations and market forces will contribute to shape the educational systems? Shall the countries of Africa and Asia dig into their ancient cultures, which built but also sometimes destroyed empires, to meet the challenges ahead?

A more regular monitoring of the dynamics of schooling between these two geopolitical spaces is a necessity as the comparison seems relevant, if only one takes into account the political and cultural legacies that have shaped the educational system.

“With a little help from my friend” Google translation.

Photos ©: Public School in Quinhamel (Guinea Bissau), Public School in Siem Reap (Cambodia), “Official” visit to Angkor Vat (Cambodia). Photos taken during missions.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Proincess wineete

    Could u just summarize the article in 2 sentaces to help me understand it

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