Educational Challenges in Burundi

Written by Joseph Kamanga

Introduction

Burundi, a small landlocked country in East Africa with a population of over 11 million people, has been plagued by political instability and violence throughout its history. These challenges have severely impacted the country’s education system, hindering progress and development. While some improvements have been made in recent years to enhance access to education, Burundi continues to face several critical challenges, including substandard school infrastructure, limited access to education, low quality of education, and high dropout rates. Addressing these issues requires a collaborative effort involving the government, donors, and civil society to implement sustainable solutions.

Students are eagerly waiting for the completion of their new school in Mabayi, Burundi. Photo by United Nations Development Programme.

Substandard School Infrastructure

One of the primary obstacles affecting education in Burundi is the substandard condition of school infrastructure. Many schools lack the necessary facilities and resources, impeding effective teaching and learning. The critical problems associated with school infrastructure in Burundi include:

Lack of classrooms:

 A significant number of schools in Burundi suffer from a shortage of classrooms, resulting in overcrowding. Students often have to sit on the floor or study outside, hampering their ability to learn and concentrate.

Insufficient number of teachers:

In 2017, Burundi had only 40,000 teachers for a population of over 11 million, resulting in an alarming student-to-teacher ratio. The lack of teachers compromises the quality of education as individual attention to students becomes challenging.

Shortage of textbooks and learning materials:

Access to textbooks and learning materials is limited, with only 50% of students having access to these resources in 2017. This scarcity hampers students’ ability to actively participate in class and complete their assignments effectively.

Inadequate water and sanitation facilities:

Approximately 50% of schools lack proper water and sanitation facilities, depriving students of clean water and hygienic toilets. This lack of basic amenities contributes to the spread of diseases, making it difficult for students to attend school regularly.

Insufficient electricity:

Only 30% of schools in Burundi have access to electricity, restricting the use of electronic devices and hindering the integration of technology in teaching and learning practices.

Deteriorating school buildings:

Approximately 30% of schools in Burundi require urgent repairs, rendering them unsafe and unsuitable for students. Dilapidated infrastructure adds to the challenges faced by both students and teachers.

Limited Access to Education

Access to education in rural areas of Burundi is significantly limited due to various factors:

Poverty:

Poverty is a significant barrier preventing families from sending their children to school, even when educational institutions are available. The inability to afford school fees and related expenses hampers children’s access to education.

Distance:

The geographical remoteness of rural areas in Burundi makes it challenging for children to access schools, resulting in limited educational opportunities.

Gender discrimination:

Girls, particularly in rural areas, face gender-based barriers to education. Cultural beliefs often dictate that girls should prioritize household responsibilities, impeding their access to formal education. Additionally, the lack of adequate sanitation facilities specifically designed for girls discourages their attendance.

The combined effect of poverty, distance, and gender discrimination has led to an estimated 600,000 girls in Burundi not attending school during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Low Quality of Education

The issue of low quality of education in Burundi encompasses various factors that contribute to a substandard learning experience for students. These factors can be attributed to the lack of resources, inadequate teacher training, outdated curriculum, and insufficient focus on student-centred learning approaches as follows:

Insufficient focus on student-centred learning: A student-centred approach to education emphasizes active participation, collaboration, and critical thinking. However, the traditional teaching methods employed in Burundi often prioritize rote memorization and passive learning. Shifting towards student-centred approaches, such as project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and interactive teaching methods, can foster a deeper understanding of concepts and improve students’ ability to apply knowledge in practical situations.

The quality of education in Burundi is generally low, attributed to several factors:

Lack of qualified teachers:

A considerable number of teachers in Burundi need to be qualified or adequately trained. Moreover, the low salaries offered to qualified teachers often discourage highly skilled individuals from pursuing a career in education. As a result, the quality of instruction suffers. The quality of education is closely linked to the competence and skills of teachers. In Burundi, there is a need to invest in comprehensive teacher training programs that focus on pedagogical techniques, subject knowledge, and classroom management. Without proper training, teachers may rely on outdated teaching methods or struggle to effectively engage students in the learning process. Ongoing professional development opportunities can help teachers stay updated with best practices and enhance their instructional strategies.

Poor quality textbooks:

Many textbooks in Burundi are outdated or inaccurate, failing to provide up-to-date and accurate information to students. This hinders their ability to acquire knowledge effectively.

Outdated Curriculum:

The curriculum used in Burundi’s education system may suffer from outdated content, limited relevance to real-world contexts, and a lack of alignment with modern educational standards. Updating the curriculum to reflect current knowledge and skills required in the job market is crucial. A contemporary curriculum should promote critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and digital literacy, equipping students with the competencies necessary for future success.

Insufficient resources:

Many schools in Burundi need more essential resources, such as textbooks, learning materials, and technological equipment. Without access to up-to-date and relevant resources, students may struggle to grasp concepts and engage in meaningful learning. Insufficient resources also limit teachers’ ability to deliver comprehensive lessons and provide students with hands-on experiences that enhance their understanding of subjects.

High dropout rates:

Burundi experiences alarmingly high dropout rates among girls and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Factors contributing to these high dropout rates include:

a. Poverty: Economic constraints force many families to prioritize immediate needs over education, making it difficult for children to continue their studies.

b. Early marriage: The prevalence of early marriage in Burundi prevents girls from pursuing education beyond a certain age. Early marriage often leads to the discontinuation of their schooling.

c. The need to work: Many children in Burundi are compelled to work to support their families, leaving them with no time or opportunity to attend school.

Addressing these complex challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving various stakeholders.

The Charlemagne School in Burundi. Photo by Bernd Weisbrod

Challenges faced by Children with disability

Children with disabilities face significant challenges in accessing quality education in Burundi. The educational system in the country often lacks the necessary infrastructure, resources, and inclusive policies to accommodate their diverse needs. Here are some key challenges faced by children with disabilities in Burundi’s education system:

Inadequate infrastructure and facilities:

Many schools in Burundi lack the necessary infrastructure and facilities to support children with disabilities. This includes wheelchair-accessible ramps, adapted classrooms, and accessible toilets. The physical barriers in schools make it difficult for children with mobility impairments to navigate the campus and fully participate in educational activities.

Limited availability of specialized support:

Specialized support services, such as trained teachers, therapists, and assistive devices, are scarce for children with disabilities in Burundi. These children often require individualized attention and tailored instructional approaches to address their specific learning needs. The need for more trained professionals and appropriate assistive technology hampers their educational progress.

Discrimination and stigma:

Children with disabilities in Burundi often face discrimination and stigma within their communities and schools. This can create psychological barriers affecting their self-esteem, confidence, and willingness to engage in learning. Negative attitudes and misconceptions about disability can lead to exclusion and social isolation.

Limited awareness and understanding:

There is a lack of awareness and understanding among educators, parents, and the wider community about disabilities and inclusive education. This can result in a failure to recognize and accommodate the diverse learning needs of children with disabilities. Promoting awareness campaigns and training teachers and stakeholders to foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment is crucial.

Inaccessible curriculum and teaching methods:

Burundi’s curriculum and teaching methods often do not consider the diverse learning styles and needs of children with disabilities. The instructional materials and assessments may not be adapted to cater to their specific requirements, hindering their full participation in the educational process. Adapting the curriculum and employing inclusive teaching strategies can help ensure that children with disabilities receive an equitable education.

Interventions to Improve Burundi’s Education System

To enhance the education system in Burundi, the following vital interventions are necessary:

Teacher Training and Professional Development:

To improve the quality of education in Burundi, a strong emphasis should be placed on teacher training and professional development programs. The government, in collaboration with educational institutions and international partners, should establish comprehensive training programs to enhance teachers’ skills and pedagogical techniques. Ongoing professional development opportunities should be provided to ensure that teachers are equipped with the latest teaching methodologies and subject knowledge. By investing in the professional growth of teachers, the overall quality of education in Burundi can be significantly improved.

Promoting Inclusive Education:

Another critical aspect of enhancing the education system in Burundi is promoting inclusive education. Efforts should be made to ensure that children with disabilities, those from marginalized communities, and those with special learning needs have equal access to education. This requires developing inclusive policies, providing necessary support services and resources, and effectively training teachers to cater to diverse learning needs. Inclusive education not only fosters a sense of equality and social cohesion but also maximizes the potential of all children, contributing to the nation’s overall development.

Enhancing Parent and Community Involvement:

To create a holistic and supportive learning environment, it is essential to enhance the involvement of parents and the wider community in education. Establishing partnerships between schools, parents, and community organizations can facilitate collaborative efforts in promoting education. This can involve initiatives such as parent-teacher associations, community outreach programs, and awareness campaigns on the importance of education. Engaging parents and the community can contribute to increased school attendance, reduced dropout rates, and improved educational outcomes for children in Burundi.

Integration of Technology in Education:

Integrating technology in education can revolutionize the learning experience for students in Burundi. Access to computers, internet connectivity, and digital learning resources can enhance teaching and learning methods, promote interactive and self-directed learning, and foster digital literacy skills. The government should prioritize initiatives to provide schools with the necessary technological infrastructure and ensure that teachers receive adequate training to utilize technology in their classrooms effectively. By embracing technology, Burundi can bridge the digital divide and equip its students with the skills needed for the modern world.

Monitoring and Evaluation:

A robust monitoring and evaluation system should be established to assess the progress and impact of education initiatives in Burundi. Regular assessments of school infrastructure, teacher quality, student performance, and dropout rates are essential to identify areas of improvement and make informed policy decisions. Additionally, collecting data on gender disparities, educational equity, and access to education can help design targeted interventions. Monitoring and evaluation provide the necessary feedback loop to ensure that efforts to enhance the education system in Burundi are effective and sustainable.

Violence has affected the infraestructure of schools in the country. Photo by EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie

Investing in school infrastructure:

The government should prioritize investments in the construction and rehabilitation of schools. Adequate classrooms, furniture, and facilities are essential for creating a conducive learning environment.

Expanding access to education:

Efforts should be made to improve access to education, particularly in rural areas. This can be achieved by constructing additional schools, recruiting and training more qualified teachers, and providing transportation subsidies to ensure students can reach schools despite the distance.

Improving the quality of education:

The government must focus on improving the quality of education by enhancing teacher training programs and attracting skilled educators. Additionally, ensuring the availability of updated textbooks, learning materials, and technological resources is crucial for fostering a quality learning environment.

Reducing dropout rates:

To address the high dropout rates, comprehensive strategies must be implemented. This includes targeted interventions to alleviate poverty, awareness campaigns to discourage early marriages, and initiatives to provide financial assistance to families struggling with school fees.

Addressing these challenges for children with a disability requires a concerted effort from the government, educators, families, and civil society organizations. The following interventions can help improve educational opportunities for children with disabilities:

Inclusive policies and legislation:

The government should establish and enforce inclusive education policies that protect the rights of children with disabilities and ensure their access to quality education. This includes promoting inclusive practices, providing reasonable accommodations, and eliminating school discrimination.

Training and professional development:

Teachers and education professionals need specialized training on inclusive education and strategies to support children with disabilities. This training should focus on adapting teaching methods, creating accessible learning materials, and using assistive technology effectively.

Provision of support services:

Adequate resources should be allocated to provide necessary support services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychological support, to children with disabilities. This includes recruiting and training specialized professionals who can work directly with these children.

Infrastructure and accessibility:

Schools should be equipped with appropriate infrastructure and facilities to ensure accessibility for children with disabilities. This involves constructing wheelchair ramps, installing accessible toilets, and adapting classrooms to accommodate different types of disabilities.

Awareness and community engagement:

Conducting awareness campaigns to combat stigma, raise awareness about disabilities, and promote the importance of inclusive education is essential. Engaging parents, communities, and local organizations in educating children with disabilities can help foster an inclusive and supportive environment.

By addressing these challenges and implementing inclusive practices, Burundi can create a more inclusive education system that ensures equal educational opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities.

Conclusion

Burundi’s education system faces significant challenges, including substandard school infrastructure, limited access to education, low quality of education, and high dropout rates. These issues have profound implications for the country’s development and the well-being of its population. However, these challenges can be overcome with the joint efforts of the government, donors, and civil society. By investing in school infrastructure, expanding access to education, improving the quality of instruction, and implementing strategies to reduce dropout rates, Burundi can pave the way for a brighter future, ensuring that all children have equal opportunities to access quality education.

References:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2018). Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Education Progress and Challenges in Burundi. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000246736

World Bank. (2020). Burundi Education Sector Analysis: Challenges and Opportunities for System Improvement. Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33776

UNICEF. (2019). Education in Emergencies Annual Report 2019 – Burundi. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/burundi/reports/education-emergencies-annual-report-2019

Human Rights Watch. (2017). Burundi: Girls’ Education under Threat. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/07/burundi-girls-education-under-threat

Save the Children. (2020). Education in Burundi: Challenges and Opportunities. Retrieved from https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/18701/pdf/education_in_burundi.pdf

Plan International. (2019). Education in Burundi: Challenges and Solutions. Retrieved from https://plan-international.org/publications/education-burundi-challenges-and-solutions

Handicap International. (2018). Education for All in Burundi: Study on Inclusive Education. Retrieved from https://www.hi-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/education-for-all-in-burundi-study-on-inclusive-education.pdf

Burundi Ministry of Education. (2019). Strategic Plan for Education and Vocational Training 2018-2027. Retrieved from http://www.men.estburundi.org/plan-strategique

African Development Bank Group. (2017). Burundi Country Strategy Paper 2017-2021. Retrieved from https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Project-and-Operations/Burundi_-_CSP_2017-2021_With_CAADP.pdf

The New Humanitarian. (2020). Burundi’s Education System Faces Multiple Crises. Retrieved from https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2020/01/20/burundi-education-crisis-challenges

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