Why does Burundi perform on PASEC test ?

Burundi case study by Pierre Varly

The World Bank has commanded a report (full text here) explaining the good performance of Burundi in international tests. Burundi is one of the poorest country in the World : the GDP per capita is only 218 USD and dropping since 2014. Burundi’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2015 is 0.404 positioning it at 184 out of 188 countries and territories. However,  between 1990 and 2015, mean years of schooling increased by 1.6 years and expected years of schooling increased by 6.2 years. Burundi is experiencing political instability and security issues, with concerning human rights. Bilateral donors have withdrew from education funding and the World Banks is gauging the feasibility of investing in education in Burundi.

Several sources of data concur regarding the good performance of Burundi: the two PASEC surveys (2009 and 2014), the two EGRA datasets (2011 and 2012) and literacy surveys. Kirundi which is the predominant language in Burundi, spoken by 95 % of the population, is used as medium of instruction until grade 4 and in the tests in early grades. In the 2014 PASEC results, Burundi have the highest position in grade 2 both in reading and math (more than 100 points above average of 500 points) where tests are in Kirundi in Burundi and French in other countries.

Pasec data

Source: PASEC (2014)

In the EGRA data collections, there are 20.4% of non-readers in grade 2 (cannot read a word aloud) in Burundi versus 33% on average for the countries participants to the EGRA barometer[1] and 53.8% in African countries.

Table : Proportion of non-readers by Country and maternal language

Country Language Grade Proportion of non-readers
Burundi Kirundi 2 20.4%
Liberia nd 2 30.7%
Uganda Luganda 3 35.8%
Tanzania Kiswahili 2 37.9%
Mali* Bamanankan 2 64.2%
Ghana Ewe 2 64.6%
Zambia Chitonga 2 88.2%
Nigeria** Hausa 2 88.3%
Average     49%

Source: http://www.earlygradereadingbarometer.org/files/EarlyGradeReadingBarometer.pdf

Burundi has the lowest proportion of non-readers among African countries after Rwanda where pupils were tested at grade 4.  In the 2009 PASEC evaluation, at grade 2 the results in Kirundi are much better than in French. When French is used for international comparisons in grade 2, Burundi has one of the lowest performance in language. In Grade 6, where pupils were tested in French, the performance of Burundi in reading is close to the average but higher in math.

Despite the relative good performance in grade 2 in Kirundi, still 37% of the pupils cannot count after 80 at the end of the school year while the objective is to reach counting to 99. Average reading fluency is around 26 words per minute in grade 2 (the same as Rwanda), far below industrialized countries (the median is 89 words per minute in the USA). 26 words per minute falls in the 10th percentile in the USA. If Burundi has a higher performance than other PASEC countries, it does not yet reach international standards in educational achievement.

The youth (15-24) literacy rate (2008-2012) is 89.6 for male and 88.1 female, one of the highest in Africa, because of the good performance of the education system and since religious community have had literacy campaigns for decades. The relative written tradition of Kirundi, compared to other African languages, is one plausible hypotheses of the high literacy rate in Burundi that positively impact pupils learning.

Burundi is an outlier both in terms of input and learning outcomes. In 2014, Burundi spent 35% of his budget on education and its education expenses structure is well aligned with international standards. Burundi receives a substantial aid for education (35.9% of education expenses in 2015). As long as resources are turned into results, education expenses are probably one reason for Burundi’s success together with the technical expertise, rigorous budget mechanisms, monitoring and evaluation procedures that comes with foreign funding.

However, class size and repetitions rates are high, double shift account for 46% of the classrooms and official schooling time is low (855 hours annual vs 914 in PASEC countries). The classroom and school equipment levels are close to other PASEC countries average. There is a lack of textbooks in the classroom (5.1% of pupils have their own textbook versus 35.7% in PASEC countries), lack of books in the schools (5.1% of schools have a library versus 12.4% on average) and at home and pupils have little opportunities to practice homework : 45.7% of grade 3 teachers never give homework. Violence is frequent in and outside schools. The learning conditions are relatively poor in Burundi and not conducive to achievement. Burundi does not fit the traditional model usually associated with education performance.

However, a focus on resources (trained teachers and materials) on the early grades is specific to Burundi and could explain why results are good in grade 2. For example, 72.7% of grade 2 teachers have had 2 years of training (36.3% on average) compared to 68.2% in grade 6 (42.2% on average). Private education represents only 1% of enrolment. Religious communities run government dependent schools (one third of enrolment) that have higher test scores: 25.4% of non-readers in grade 2 in public schools versus 11.8% in “écoles conventionnées”. In those schools, director is chosen by religious communities, show higher commitment than in public schools, receive more training  and parents are more involved than in public schools. School management committee are progressively implemented.

Teaching conditions appear to be better than in other African countries and Burundi teachers have more positive opinions than others in that regard. More than 80% of teachers have a positive opinion of the school management (44.5% in Cameroon). Initial training of primary school teachers is organized in the teacher training colleges and entrants are recruited after lower secondary education. They are trained to teach the different domains. Secondary level teachers are recruited at upper secondary level and receive 3 years of training at Ecole Normale Supérieur.

Curricula has not changed over time and teachers have enjoyed a certain consistency in terms of official instructions and in school textbooks. While a better curricula both in terms of content and standards cannot be cited as a reason of success in reading, teachers seem better prepared to teach than in many countries. They also benefit from coaching from district supervisors and from radio programs or through distance learning interventions (IFADEM). Supplementary teachers can be mobilized when teachers are absent.

The majority of teachers and school head are females (81.2% of female teachers in grade 6), an untypical situation in Francophone Africa. That could explain the overall good performance, why girls perform better than boys in tests and the gender parity reached in enrolment.

In quantitative terms, pedagogical practices in the classroom are similar to other African countries and explain little variation of the performance. However, more in depth observations of reading lessons show that a participative approach is used in teaching of reading and writing in the 1st and 2nd years.  Whole word method and pedagogical supports such as posters are mobilized. Reading and writing are done at the same time, both playfully and actively.

Moreover, in the early grades, teaching and learning is facilitated by the fact that the medium of instruction is the home language of teachers and pupils. Together with the relative simplicity of the language (transparency), the fact that mother tongue is used as medium of instruction is the core explanation for Burundi’s relative success. Kirundi language is phonetically coded using the Latin script. Linguistic transition from Kirundi to French as medium of instruction occurs at grade 5. The Ministry of Education is considering the generalization of bilingual education in pilot schools from 2012 to 2015, as part of the ELAN-Africa Francophone initiative. Along with Kirundi, 3 languages are taught as subjects from grade 1 : Kiswahili, English and French, with little teachers content knowledge and preparedness in Kiswahili and English.

Burundi is undertaking several reforms: compulsory nine years of education, shortening of the lower secondary education duration (from 4 to 3) and revision of the syllabus (competency based approach). Other reforms include the revision the classroom based assessments and increase of the time spent teaching overall and in Kirundi. Together with a sharp decrease in donors’ aid due to political instability, Burundi faces some challenges ahead and education reforms bust be supported technically and financially to preserve the relatively good service delivery of the education system.

Source : Summary from Varly P., Mazunya M., Thacker S. (2017), Report on Burundi performance, working document, World Bank.

[1] http://www.earlygradereadingbarometer.org/files/EarlyGradeReadingBarometer.pdf

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