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Schools and Schooling in Burkina Faso

This page has descriptions of my teaching experience and the Burkinabè school system. It also includes a few pictures of the school and staff below. Be sure to see the related pages of photos of students, classes and colleagues.

Some photos of school

Click on a thumbnail image to see the larger photo.


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<My school, Lycée Yamwaya, with some colleagues (and their mopeds) waiting for class. The school includes about nine buildings. 

At right is the school during a strike, with just a few students checking out what's going on. That's my indispensable 'velo' (bike) in the foreground.>

Spring 2001


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Mme OUED sec-basic.JPG (238101 bytes)


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Some of the school staff (left to right)

Madame Ouedraogo, one of the two school secretaries

Madame Kindo, now an expert on MS Excel

Adama, the school guardien (watchman/custodian)

Summer 2001

(My apologies to the others whose pictures I did not have)



The Burkinabè system of education

The numerical levels in the French system (and therefore also the Burkinabè system) are in reverse order from the numerical order of grades in American schools. Secondary school starts with Sixième (6eme) then goes to 5eme, 4eme, and 3eme before the BEPC exam. This means that my Cinquième (5eme) students were about upper middle-school level (about ages 13 to 15). The second cycle of secondary school starts with Seconde (2nde), either on the A-track (languages/history/etc.) or the C/D-track (mathematics/sciences), continuing on to Première (1ere) and Terminale levels before students attempt the BAC exam (Baccalaureate). My Seconde students were at about a high-school-junior level in terms of their mathematics, and their ages were about 17 to 23. Students who pass the BAC are at a somewhat higher academic level than the average American high school graduate. Many students stop their education prior to this time, either after passing challenging public-service employment tests or to help their families.



A typical day of teaching...

As a teacher, my work day involved going to school for whatever hours I had class scheduled. For me that generally meant 7 AM until 11 or 12 noon Monday through Friday, for a total of 18 hours of teaching. I taught four classes of students, a total of just under 300.  Each day was different, with three of my four classes having five hours of class each week and three hours of class for my fourth class of upper-level students who had chosen the language track (not the mathematics/science track). Some days a class might have a two-hour block of mathematics, and other days one hour or none. Because teachers are not well paid here (similarly to the US and many other countries, although on a much different scale), most of my colleagues took on extra hours of teaching at other schools in town, especially the private schools.  Like my colleagues, in the afternoons and evenings, I prepared lessons and graded papers. I taught all my lessons in French, so preparing them took quite a while.



My 1999-2000 teaching schedule:

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7-8 AM --- 2C2 2C1 2C1 5o
8-9 AM --- --- 2C2
9-10 AM Seconde C1 
Cinquième (5o) 2C2 2A
10-11 AM Seconde A (2A) 5o ---
11-12 AM --- --- ---

At noon, school is dismissed for the three-hour "sieste," during which time most folks eat and rest. Many teachers have classes in the afternoon as well (from 3 PM to 5 PM). But fortunately for me, my censeur (assistant principal) scheduled my mathematics classes during the mornings. He said he knew Americans could not handle the afternoon heat very well. Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to prepare lessons in French and to grade papers for 70 students per class, so those hot afternoons (and evenings) were often spent working. Some of my colleagues in small villages had a real challenge, however, in that they were doing the same work by hot and dim lantern light.


All photos and essays are copyright Cathy Seeley. All rights reserved. No photo or text may be reproduced without permission except for small group educational purposes (thanks for giving appropriate credit). 
For other uses, please contact Cathy Seeley.

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