Creating an English Club in Burkina Faso’s Evolving Educational System: A Photo Exhibition

In his latest guest post, Ritassida Mamadou Djiguimde returns with a photo exhibition of the school where he teaches. Read the post below to learn of Burkina Faso’s evolving educational system as well as how Mamadou is helping his school’s newly created English Club stay ahead of the curve. Following the post are several enlightening photos of various activities organized by the Club.

As an ancient colony of France, Burkina Faso’s education was modeled after the French educational system. The French educational approach, or lecture mode class, does not promote interaction between teachers and students or among students themselves. Students are regarded as empty boxes expected to be filled with knowledge. For about 50 years, the Burkinabe education has suffered a non-participatory learning style which encourages learners to use rote memorization. Even if learners are given the opportunity to ask questions, their own standpoint is seldom taken into consideration and cannot affect the outcome of the course; learners are expected to respect or even venerate the teacher’s point of view.  That approach has long been known as a teacher-centered teaching approach.  At Burkina Faso’s great astonishment, however, the French abandoned the educational system they have long championed to adopt an international model they baptized “Licence, Master, Doctorat” (LMD).  As the advocates run away from their own ideals, the adherents were obliged to follow, hence causing the shift in Burkina Faso’s educational system.

Today, most of Burkina Faso’s higher educational institutes have signed up for LMD. LMD was proposed in two models which are 8 – 12 and 12 – 8. Respectively, the first model signifies 8 hours of theory and 12 hours of practice, and the second means 12 hours of theory and 8 hours of practice. Knowing that the shift would be onerous, most Burkinabe institutions went for the 12 – 8. The University of Ouagadougou for instance implemented the model by offering 12 hours of lecture mode class followed by 8 hours of TD (Travaux Dirigés) or TP (Travaux Pratiques). The TD or TP are kinds of classes monitored by an instructor where the focus is on practical aspects of the subject matter. In a math class for instance, TP or TD could consist of going over a series of math exercises in detail.  In the LMD system, it is argued that “Licence” is roughly the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree even though it is completed after 3 years of university studies; the “master” corresponds to the masters degree (5 years of university studies); and the “Doctorat” corresponds to the Ph.D.. After conversing with the President of the University of Ouagadougou on why we were so quick in embracing this new educational approach, he explained to me that we did not really have the choice.  He added that this new system actually gives more chances to our students who want to pursue their studies abroad because it levels our degrees with international ones. He explained that the question is not “are we ready for it,” but rather, “should we sign up for it?”

Students’ frequent demonstrations and complaints about the new system in our universities are strong signs that Burkina Faso is having troubles implementing LMD. The current educational context of the country hampers the completion of the LMD system. In my opinion, the implementation of LMD comes with a series of implications. Choosing this teaching approach does not only consist on having the same degrees as other international institutions, but it also consists on working in approximately the same context and conditions as these international counterparts. How could we tell a teacher who has been teaching using a lecture mode style for 5, 10, or 20 years to suddenly adopt a student-centered teaching approach? How can we tell a teacher who has always been seen as the all-knowledge individual in class that s/he is now a learning facilitator? How could a teacher suddenly change his teaching approach to meet the goals of the new educational system? How could we suddenly turn students who have always been passive learners into active ones? Shouldn’t we apply the student-centered teaching approach since primary school to make the transition smoother in higher educational institutions?  These are questions that needed answers before blindly jumping into LMD.

I do believe that LMD is a great system that potentially could ameliorate the level of education in Burkina Faso. However, LMD does not only mean adopting the “credit and semester” system or having the same diplomas as abroad. It simply means changing our teaching methods in such ways that learners become involved in the learning process, learn to negotiate meaning with the teacher and among peers, cultivate critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, leadership, research, internet and technology skills, etc. In order for learners to develop those skills though, they should have access to high quality libraries as well as great laboratories. The use of those learning spaces is what will guarantee their growth as independent learners. Adopting LMD also means providing trainings to teachers to meet the requirements of the new educational system. It implies changing their approaches so that they understand that learners come with a background and an intellectual package upon which should be built new knowledge. At the core, LMD is what will guarantee our future as a democratic country for democracy itself relies on straightforward principles such as the capacity to understand others and respect their point of view without necessarily agreeing with them, to develop a sense of tolerance and negotiation, etc.

At the dawn of my teaching career in Burkina Faso, a survey on high school students showed that the majority did not like English as subject matter because their previous English classes were too boring. The classes were basically built around teaching grammar and text comprehension, which systematically implies less involvement in the learning process.  Using Project Based Learning (PBL) in my English classes was quite an innovation for my students in the academic year 2010 -2011. “PBL is a model that organizes learning around projects… Projects are complex tasks, based on challenging questions or problems, that involve students in design, problem-solving, decision making, or investigative activities; give students the opportunity to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time; and culminate in realistic products or presentations” (Jones, Rasmussen, & Moffitt, 1997; Thomas, Mergendoller, & Michaelson, 1999). At the beginning of the academic year, all the students seemed to enjoy my classes because of the variety of activities carried out. Pretty soon, some students started to worry because my tests were not in accordance with their end-of-year exam taken nationwide. They also had the feeling that they were not learning much from my classes because they had to accomplish most tasks either in groups or individually. I understood that the real problem came from the fact they were not used to participating in their own knowledge construction. Not only did they have to learn from the all-knowing teacher, but they also had to learn from themselves and their peers. That is what made them think they were not learning much. It was quite a harsh transition when they were given the responsibility to participate in their learning process.  For that matter, we came to a compromise which was about creating an English club where PBL would be used in conjunction with keeping the traditional way of teaching during regular class meetings.

English clubs are very different from regular classes. Some major differences between English Clubs and regular classes are that English Clubs are most often heard of in an EFL context; it is a way to provide participants with psycho-social support while helping them improve their language skills.  It creates a milieu for language learners to practice English in countries where it is not widely used. Besides, participation in an English Club is not as mandatory as attendance in a class; participants’ works are not subjected to authentic assessment. The club is run by an executive board composed of students, and activities are student driven. The executive board works around a constitution settled by the general assembly of the club and faculty advisors. It is a way to make learning fun and organize it around principles. Some fun activities in an English club could be panel discussions, sport practices in English, Karaoke with songs in English, acting in short films in English, poetry or essay competitions in English, word games, crossword puzzles, idioms, limericks, jokes and riddles, puzzle stories, and folk wisdom.  However, it is worth noting that English club activities are complementary with regular class activities. In my particular context, I have initiated the English Club to give a chance to participants to anticipate dealing with problems they might encounter in higher institutions about the implementation of LMD. Some broad goals of the English Club are to help participants develop skills that are going to help them as independent learners by enhancing their communication, leadership, and language skills. The activities of the English Club are based upon projects aiming at developing participants’ skills to communicate knowledge and information to others, to evaluate a situation and provide supporting evidence,  to describe personal opinions, to reinforce word processing skills, to get familiarized with new technology, to engage in a cooperative and collaborative learning, to provide peer tutoring and guidance, to expand the use of new vocabulary, to practice the use of dictionaries or encyclopedia, to gather, record, and interpret data, etc. These are some of the skills not seriously taken into consideration in Burkina Faso’s current educational system. That way, once the participants get to the university, they will be the most competent students because they have at least partially developed all the necessarily and genuine skills needed in the LMD system.

Below are pictures of a few activities carried out in the English Club. Through the pictures, you can discover our teaching environment, our classes, school yards, as well as green reserves for sport.

Members of the Executive Board (2010-2011)

  • Karaoke Competition (December 2011)

Setting up technology for the Karaoke competition

Making sure seats are well arranged before the activity starts

Young students gathering to follow the activity

A female competitor performing a song

Teachers and the Director following performances

  • Riddles and Description Activities

The faculty advisor making sure group activities are being well done

Student leading the activity asking for volunteers to guess the answer of a riddle

Student in advanced level tutoring young ones

Group photo with senior members of the club

Group photo with junior members of the club

  • Sport Activity as Conducted by English Club (June 2011)

Jumping exercise performed by a member of the club

The advisor of the club performing a push up exercise

A bicep exercise on parallel bars

Performance of planks, an exercise for abdominals

  • Acting in Short Films // Pictures from a short film on Arranged Marriages.

Father’s friend (left) asking the father (right) why his daughter who was promised to him is dating a student

Boyfriend (middle) kicked out by the father (left) because he (boyfriend) is poor and cannot take care of his daughter (right)

Work Cited

Jones, B. F., Rasmussen, C. M., & Moffitt, M. C. (1997). Real-life problem solving.: A collaborative approach to interdisciplinary learning. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Thomas, J. W., Mergendoller, J. R., and Michaelson, A. (1999). Project-based learning: A handbook for middle and high school teachers. Novato, CA: The Buck Institute for Education.

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