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Mali: Facilitators, chiefs, and teachers team up to improve education in local language

It’s 5 p.m. on Wednesday in Djicoroni Para, a disadvantaged district of Bamako, the capital of Mali. Younous Keïta is already in the Traoré family home. Mr. Keïta stands, holding a piece of white chalk and a yellow ruler, surrounded by ten students. Nearby, there are boxes containing labels of numbers and letters in Bambara, a common language in Mali. Mr. Keïta is leading a study session with the students: the Traoré family and their neighbours.

Mr. Keïta is a volunteer community facilitator who helps develop students’ reading, writing, and mathematics skills in Bambara. He organizes study sessions every Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The classes start at 5 p.m. when young girls have finished their housework.

He explains: “The pupils, especially the girls, have difficulty reading or writing. In our schools, 70% of students in grade two are not able to read properly. We help them improve through study sessions.”

To help parents improve their children’s education, the Ministry of Education and its partners have introduced national languages to school curricula and recruited volunteer facilitators to provide support for parents and students. The facilitators also raise awareness in the community.

Oumou Traoré is eight years old. Ruler in hand, she reads a text in Bambara. She regularly participates in Mr. Keïta’s study sessions. She explains, Before, I was afraid to read words in French because I mixed them up and I was afraid that I would be laughed at. But now it’s easier with Bambara words.”    

Mr. Keita helps pupils and interested adults to read, write, and do mathematics. He also organizes reading and writing games with the children to help reinforce their learning.

His work reminds parents that it’s important for children to be educated in their mother tongue. He encourages the community to participate in educational games, activities, and study sessions to support children’s learning so that they can learn independently after he leaves.      

Mr. Keita recalls how he convinced parents to let their children come to the study sessions: “I first went through the neighbourhood chief, who in turn mandated the traditional griot chief, Amadou Doumbia. Mr. Doumbia went through the families to pass on the chief’s request to the parents. Because the traditional chief is a man who is listened to, the parents accepted.” 

Souleymane Traoré is a technical advisor at the Ministry of National Education. He explains the method for implementing children’s education: Now they have introduced local languages in schools because children learn faster in the languages they already understand. But there were some parents who were reluctant. So, we recruited community facilitators to raise awareness within communities, and even within households.”

The facilitators educate parents about the importance of children beginning to learn in a language they already understand, the importance of educating their daughters, and how to get involved in their children’s learning.          

Ousmane Traoré is the parent of a student whose child is involved in the local language learning program. He is satisfied with the initiative and proud that his child is able to read.

At first, Mr. Traoré resented the idea of his daughter studying in Bambara. He says he wanted his daughter to continue learning French. But after meeting Mr. Keïta, he agreed that his daughter should start learning in Bambara. Today, his daughter is progressing well. He says, “I am very satisfied with her results during evaluations. Her grade average went from 3.55 to 6.50.”

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada as part of the DEFI project implemented by the consortium of Alinéa, Farm Radio International (FRI), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Education International (EI), in partnership with the Ministry of Education in conflict-affected areas in Mali.

Photo: Mr. Keïta leading a study session with students in Djicoroni Para, Bamako in Mali, in July 2021. Credit: Cheick Coulibaly.