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Supporting the educational needs of pastoralist children in Burkina Faso

In the northern regions of Burkina Faso, many families still lead a nomadic life grazing herds across large areas to find fresh pasture.

These pastoralists make up nearly a fifth of the population in the north of the country and traditionally few of their children have been enrolled in formal education. Now one of the country’s educational institutions has introduced a curriculum specially designed to meet the needs of these nomadic children. In the village of Bénnogo, 90 kilometers north of the capital Ouagadougou, the local community has opened a ‘School of the Shepherds’.

In a recent article on the new school, one of the teachers explains to the Guardian’s reporter that the facility aims to teach around 25 children each year, many of whom have never attended formal classes before. Focusing on 12-year olds, classes begin in the pupil’s local language of Fulfulde and include the usual kinds of subjects such as history, geography and science. But in addition, children are taught topics such as livestock-rearing, health, the environment and hygiene. As well as encouraging students to attend by including subjects geared to their lifestyle, the school also tailors its opening times to suit the seasonal migration patterns by closing from May to December.

The students study to the level of the third year of primary, when they can take a provincial exam. Once they’ve passed this, they are eligible to join the formal school system. However, enrolment in formal schools can place a strain on pastoral families, who need to be able to move freely to find pastures for their livestock. Sometimes children have to leave their home settlements or families to stay on in education, especially if they want to attend secondary school or vocational colleges.

Education is increasingly seen as important among rural families, particularly as conditions across the dry Sahel region become harder for pastoralists. The president of a parent’s group at the Bénnogo school acknowledged that to succeed in the agriculture today, “knowledge is needed”.

Officials want to encourage greater take-up of education in rural areas. However they do not want to discourage families from pursuing a pastoral way of living. According to a recent report from a group of development agencies working in the region, ‘Pathways to Resilience in the Sahel’, evidence suggests that farming is more productive when livestock are moved around and there is less impact on the environment, since animals are not concentrated for too long in one area. Therefore, the better schools can tailor themselves to the needs of pastoralist’s children, the healthier and more productive rural communities can be.

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