Challenges within the education system in Burkina Faso

Written by Ruth Lakica


Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in west Africa. The country occupies an extensive plateau, and its geography is characterized by a savanna that is grassy in the north and gradually gives way to sparse forests in the south. A former French colony, it gained independence as Upper Volta in 1960. The name Burkina Faso, which means “Land of Incorruptible People,” was adopted in 1984.

Schoolchildren in Burkina Faso – Photo by Anadolu Agency.

Characteristics of Education in Burkina Faso

School enrollment is one of the lowest in Africa, even though the government devotes a large portion of the national budget to education. French is the language of instruction in primary and secondary education.

Education in Burkina Faso has a very similar structure to the rest of the world, primary schools, secondary schools, and higher education. The academic year in Burkina Faso runs from October to July. The Education Act enacted that schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15 but unfortunately this is not always enforced. The education system is based on the French model and teaching language in all Burkina Faso schools is French. According to the World Bank, it is notable that approximately 56% of youth have no formal education, and 16% of youth have attained at most incomplete primary education, meaning that in total 72% meaning that in total 15-24 years old have not completed primary education in Burkina Faso.

The effect of Covid-19 on Education

Like every country worldwide, the education system in Burkina Faso was also affected by Covid-19. All schools in Burkina Faso were closed for nine weeks from march 2020. After this time schools in some areas reopened, with all schooling resuming after 14 weeks (UNESCO, 2020). School closure affected more than 20,000 educational establishments, and disrupted the education of over 4.7 million learners.

The impact of Covid-19 forced the closure of schools across the country, putting the most marginalized children at risk of losing out on learning and not returning to the classroom.

Broken chalk congratulates Burkina Faso for adopting remote studying undertaken during school closures with learning materials provided via television, radio and internet for primary and secondary school (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, UNICEF & World Bank, 2020). However, 84% of students lack internet access, 81% lack digital devices, and 81% had difficulty distributing hard copies of learning materials. These disadvantaged students that are unable to access remote studies fell behind with others dropping out.

Another barrier to remote education is access to technology. The MILO (Monitoring Impacts on Learning Outcomes) project indicates that the support many schools most need relates to accessing technology, rather than human capital.

Armed groups attack on teachers, students, and schools in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso’s education system is facing recurrent and growing attacks by armed groups. Schools have been attacked, teachers assaulted and killed, and educational resources destroyed. At one point, all schools were closed, disrupting the school calendar. Students and staff were sent home.

Burkina Faso is facing an education crisis, with severe deterioration in access to education due to armed violence over the past few years. Education indicators have been declining since 2018, with the gross enrolment rate at the primary level falling from 90.7% to 86.1% and the post-primary level from 52% to 47.3%, a loss of 5 points in three years. For example, in the Sahel region, which has been partially affected by insecurity, the gross enrolment rate at the primary level has fallen from 53.4% in 2018 to 20.3% in 2021. Thus, only one in four children were attending school in the Sahel region in 2021.

The attacks by armed groups have led to the closures of many schools in Burkina Faso. As of 31 May 2022, more than 4,000 schools were closed due to insecurity, representing 17% of schools nationwide, interrupting the education of more than 700,000 children. An estimated 2.6 million children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 are out of school, representing more than half of all school-aged children (51.4%).

School closures increase with safety threats from armed groups – Photo by UNICEF

Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene

54% of the population of Burkina Faso has access to improved drinking water sources while only 23% has access to improved sanitation facilities. Regarding water and sanitation facilities in schools, Burkina Faso faces challenges. 14 years old Pauline W. Somlare grade 6 at Mouni primary school located 13 km from Niou in the plateau central region. Open since October 1979, it was only in 2001 that the school got its first water pump. Despite the water installation, not everything is going as it should. A few weeks ago, the school was again facing a crucial water problem leading to thirst, lack of hygiene, late lessons, and the often-served late lunch. The latest failure in 2019 could be repaired. In December 2019, thanks to UNICEF intervention following a request from the ministry in charge of education, the water pump was rehabilitated in Jan 2020.

Quality of Education

Despite the quality management of Burkinabe education system and its numerous educational strategy: The Orientation Law, the Basic Education Sector Development Plan, the Education Sector Plan, the Integrated Strategy for the Strengthening of Pedagogical Management, the Integrated Strategy for the Continuous Training of Teachers and Pedagogical Managers, or its Quality Reference Framework for Basic Education. Burkina Faso is still not quite “top of the class”.  Defining strategies isn’t enough to guarantee success.

The scarcity of financial resources is a fact, accentuated by the transfer of competencies from the State to local authorities. And, if financial resources are lacking, the diagnosis also highlights that human resources are also limited. In a system that tends to move towards greater decentralization and which entrusts a great deal of responsibility to the actors closest to the ground, their support for these new responsibilities (particularly administrative and financial) is not always equal to the challenges.

Resources that do not always match the needs. With little training and support, teachers at the concentrated areas seem to have difficulty entirely playing their role. Often burdened by a heavy administrative workload, they have difficulty keeping up with the pace and thus slow down actions to improve quality teaching.

Negative Consequences for Students, Teachers, Society.

Attacks on schools and class disruptions have reduced the quality of education students receive and put many students behind in their studies. According to Human Rights Watch, one student said that she had failed her final exam after an attack forced her school to close for weeks, leaving her unable to prepare. Another said, “It makes me unhappy, to not be able to finish, to have to retake classes, to not even have any documents to show you took the class.

Lack of psychosocial and material support to victims of attacks from the armed group of men

Human Rights Watch identified the lack of consistent and timely support for victims of education-related attacks as another major issue. Numerous teachers who were attacked or threatened said they had never received any psychosocial support from the government. Others said the support they had received was perfunctory and woefully inadequate, without any longer-term follow-up. Many still struggled with emotional or psychological issues. Teachers said they felt abandoned and undervalued, and expected to restart work following redeployments despite the lack of the required psychosocial, financial, or material support.


Despite the challenges facing the education system in Burkina Faso, the government of Burkina Faso and other non-governmental organizations are trying to improve education in Burkina Faso. Nearly one million students do no longer have access to education. As a response, UNICEF, the Ministry of National Education, Literacy and Promotion of National Languages (MENA), and its partners, such as King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) have developed the Radio Education Programme in 2018. This programme is ensuring continuity of learning for affected children, who fled their homes because of the attacks on their schools.



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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (2020, MAY). Armed forces and groups, Children affected by armed conflict, Education.