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Enhancing early reading and writing education in three Francophone African countries

Since 2013, the International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO) and the Ministries of Education of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger have been partnering in an ambitious capacity-building project geared toward the improvement of early grade reading / writing education.


“Improving learning outcomes in early grades: integration of curriculum, teaching, learning materials and assessment” is a three-year project sponsored by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), building upon the respective objectives of the Ministries of Education and drawing on the expertise of local and international reading / writing specialists. The project is currently enabling important country-specific achievements, as well as generating findings of relevance to the wider education community.


A common frame of reference


Following the release of a special research report identifying key issues and effective innovations in the area of early reading / writing education internationally and nationally, a Regional Debate on the Teaching of Reading was held in Dakar (Senegal) in October 2014 facilitating discussion among partner countries on challenges and priorities based on the tailored recommendations included in the report. The Debate gathered IBE-UNESCO experts and education system actors from Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal, including representatives from all three Ministries of Education, teachers, trainers, researchers, and representatives from international organisations as well as local NGOs.


During this event, building on the recommendations formulated in the report, the national teams conceived National Plans of Action targeting the improvement of pedagogical practices with a focus on both the enhancement of existing material and the elaboration of state-of-the-art documents to be used by early grade reading teachers and teacher trainers in each country, as well as on capacity building for teacher trainers, supervisors and principals. The implementation process has since then been supported on site and remotely by the IBE-UNESCO through capacity-building activities and technical workshop series.


Country-specific productions


In Senegal, target deliverables include national orientations on teaching of reading / writing in French as a second language, and a supporting document on the didactics of reading / writing in French language for teacher trainers; both texts focus on the first three years of primary schooling. These tailored materials should guide policy-makers, practitioners, trainers, and supervisors in their efforts toward an optimal impact of reading / writing education- by integrating innovations identified as critical while still taking into account curriculum- and training-related constraints. Three capacity-building workshops (Dakar, January / April / June-July 2015) have been dedicated to achieving such balanced, realistic improvements. The workshop series successfully led to the pre-validation of the national orientations, which should be officially validated and implemented at the end of 2015.


In Burkina Faso, three complementary documents have been elaborated by a Ministry-appointed team of Burkinabe experts: a pedagogical guide, a toolkit for teachers, and an ameliorated training module aimed at teacher trainers. All documents are designed to promote an updated vision of contents and methods and to support the improvement of curricular alignment. The first and second national workshops leading to the official validation of such material held in Bobo Dioulasso (January 2015) and Koudougou (May 2015), have resulted in the identification of the essential issues, changes and revisions to be addressed and included in all three deliverables. This novel material will be pilot-tested as part of the national curriculum reform launched in October 2015.


In Niger, the focus has been on the design and production of two teacher training modules respectively covering the first, second, third and fourth grades of primary school, and a corresponding practitioner’s guide enabling the successful translation of new training contents into educational practices. All three documents will contribute to the implementation of the new national curriculum also launched in September 2015, notably by supporting capacity building sessions planned for fall 2015. These sessions should provide school principals, supervisors, teacher trainers, and teachers with enhanced knowledge of effective reading instruction practices. The path toward production involved a series of three capacity-building workshops co-coordinated by the IBE-UNESCO and the Ministry of Education of Niger (Niamey, January 2015; Kollo, May / August 2015), mirroring elaboration processes in Senegal and Burkina Faso.


General outcomes


All involved parties recognise the significant impact of the IBE-UNESCO / GPE project on the outcomes of reading / writing education in each of the three partner countries. In addition to country-specific expected results, “Improving learning outcomes in early grades; integration of curriculum, teaching, learning materials and assessment” is generating important findings, hopefully valid beyond the national contexts and education systems at stake. The three-year project aims at enhancing knowledge in areas of gaps and strengths in early literacy curriculums internationally.