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ELAN-Africa : A Francophone initiative promoting bilingual education to better succeed at school

The Initiative ELAN-Africa’s objective is to promote in the eight sub-Saharan African countries,(Benin, Burkina-Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal) through their Ministries of Education, the teaching at the primary level of both the African languages and the French language, using a two-tier structured intervention :

  1. Sharing knowledge, assisting in decision-making and building capacity to better meet the needs of a bilingual system of education
  2. Support and strengthen the Ministries of Education in their reform process

What is the Initiative ELAN-Africa?

Based on LASCOLAF studies findings[1], the ELAN (National Schooling and Languages) initiative was launched by eight French-speaking countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Senegal) in partnership with four institutions: the AFD (French Development Agency), the AUF (Francophonie University Agency), the MAEE (French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs), and the OIF (International Organization of the Francophonie).

Its primary purpose is to promote and gradually introduce a bilingual curriculum at the primary level by carefully articulating a national language and the French language. As each country is linguistically unique, ELAN’s objective is to support and customize the various countries’ action plans in line with their own education policies.

Why is this Initiative so important?

Despite these countries’ commitment to universal education, their languages of schooling are preventing many children in French-speaking Africa from attaining a sound basic education, especially in rural areas.

Many countries in French-speaking Africa have a multilingual heritage, yet the French language has been privileged over their national languages and is the only language used to educate children in primary schools.

Many of these children are not fluent in French, which creates communication problems in the classroom. Often this has a negative impact on the behavior of both teachers and pupils, and makes it difficult for students to grasp scientific concepts. The latest findings from scholastic tests conducted in African primary schools by PASEC[2] show the “languages spoken and the official schooling languages appear to affect pupils’ learning levels.” Indeed, countries that educate children in their native tongues during the first years of schooling achieved higher scores on these tests.

Teaching exclusively in French can hence cause many pupils in French-speaking Sub-Saharan Africa to fail in school, especially in rural areas where French is rarely spoken, if at all.

In light of the drop-out rates in this geographic zone, there is an urgent need to provide higher quality French instruction and to rework the curriculum in line with each country’s sociolinguistic profile. The ELAN-Afrique initiative is a response to this pressing need. It aims to improve the quality of primary school instruction in Sub-Saharan Africa by fostering bilingual education.

Why in national language first, then in French?

Bilingual education has a multitude of benefits.

  • Pedagogical and linguistic benefits:

Researchers concur that initially teaching basic skills (reading, writing and arithmetic) in the child’s mother tongue (or, at least, in a language s/he understands) makes it easier for him/her to master a second language.

  • Cognitive benefits:

Bilingual education studies have shown that academic skills mastered in the learner’s first language facilitate the acquisition of other knowledge in a second language.

  • Sociopolitical and cultural benefits:

Teaching in national languages is a political decision that can spur significant social and cultural changes. In the cultural arena, bilingual education promotes greater familiarity with the country’s culture and a better appreciation of its national identity. A strong mastery of the French language can also foster greater openness to the wider world.

What does ELAN exactly do?

The ELAN-Africa Initiative offers support for bilingual education to the eight MNEs (3), striving to enhance the quality of education by implementing a convergent teaching approach. It lays out a two-tier intervention plan:

- Strengthen the eight national MNEs as they enact the reforms needed to implement or expand the combined use of African languages and French in primary schools.

- Create an international body within the Francophonie to promote bilingual education in African countries by providing funding, sharing or experience and expertise, and helping train educators.

The project has two main components:

  • A cross-cutting component, to raise awareness and advocate for the integration of African languages into national education systems based on applied learning research on bilingual education (using the national language + French)
  • A support component, to reinforce the eight countries’ capacities in language engineering and language planning through their action plans.

The ELAN-Africa boost leverage effect:

The ELAN-Africa Initiative will have a leverage effect on the eight beneficiary countries by helping them draw up their own bilingual education policies and supporting them as they lay the groundwork for integrating bilingual education into their national sector-specific plans, which will ultimately be supported by sector-specific funding (national budget and funding agencies).

How it the initiative governed?

At the international level

ICC: an International Coordinating Committee coordinates cross-cutting actions related to the activity programs launched by the partner agencies and countries. It assesses their achievements and can also suggest that the SC bring in new partners.The ICC is comprised of representatives from all eight countries’ MNEs, the Initiative’s partners, and the SC.

SC: the Steering Committee maps out the overall direction of the Initiative, identifying and bringing in new partners as needed.

ISC: the International Scientific Committee through field missions, brings scientific and technical help to the countries, provides support to the Initiative, and facilitates the countries’ capitalization on the program’s achievements.

A Pool of Experts strengthens the ISC, upon request from the project team.

At the national level (8 countries)

A Management and Monitoring Committee, formed under the aegis of the Ministry of National Education, serves as an interface between the departments involved in the project, guides the drafting of the ELAN activity program, and ensures it is integrated into the country’s annual sector-specific action plan.

A National Technical Committee is in charge of drawing up a triennial framework document and budgeted annual action plans, as well as encouraging and coordinating their implementation by the departments and services concerned.

These committees meet on a regular basis, either in person in Paris or by video conference.

Project management at the international level

The OIF is responsible for implementing the project at the international level, working through its Bureau of French language and linguistic diversity. A special ELAN unit supervises the overall implementation and funding of the program, draws up agreements with operators and memorandums of understanding with the countries concerned, and monitors all the operations and decisions taken by the SC and the ICC. It helps the countries set up and launch actions, with assistance from the International Scientific Committee and the Pool of Experts (linguists, teachers, African language experts and French language experts).

Which countries are currently receiving financial and technical help?

The Ministries of National Education (MNEs) of the eight (8) beneficiary countries are responsible for managing the Initiative at the national level. They outline and implement the ELAN action plan in line with their own sector-specific goals, with assistance from ELAN experts. Every one of these plans is specially geared to the specific country, depending on how advanced it is with bilingual education (experimenting, consolidating, expanding, and generalizing).

The operational bodies within these countries are:

Benin: MEMP-Ministry of Maternal and Primary Education/National EFA Coordinating Unit

Burkina Faso: MENA-Ministry of National Education and Literacy/Department for the Development of Basic Education

Burundi: MEBS-EMFP-Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, VocationalTraining, Professional Training, and Literacy/National Pedagogy Bureau

Cameroon: MINEDUB-Ministry of Basic Education

DR Congo: MEPSP-Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education/DIPROMAD-Directorate of Curriculum and Learning Materials

Mali: MENA-Ministry of National Education and Literacy/National Directorate for Basic Education

Niger: MEN-Ministry of National Education/Directorate of Basic Education Cycle 1

Senegal: MEPE-MS-LN/Directorate of Planning and Education Reform

What is the pilot project in reading and writing?

Reading and writing skills are the foundations for all other learning. The alarming results from various studies have prompted the partner countries to ask ELAN’s help with the teaching of reading and writing. As a response, ELAN has launched a pilot project in 10 schools of the 8 countries. This pilot project has received an additional financial help from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). An innovative pedagogical approach based on the concept of balanced literacy reinforced by emerging research on language transfers has been implemented in these 80 classrooms since the beginning of the school year in September/October 2013.  In order to achieve this, ELAN has:

  • Elaborated an orientation guide to bilingual education
  • Created and disseminated pedagogical supports adapted to the approach
  • Trained teachers’ trainers who in turn, have trained teachers
  • Conducted a baseline evaluation of the students in November 2013
  • Conducted a mid-term evaluation of the same students in May 2014

The final evaluation of the pilot project will be done at the end of Grade 2 in May 2015.

 

 

[1] LASCOLAF (Schooling Languages in French-Speaking Africa) studies, funded and conducted by the OIF, the AUF, the MAEE and the AFD in six countries: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Burundi, Senegal

[2] PASEC (international assessments by CONFEMEN, the Conference of Education Ministers of French-Speaking Countries) PASEC VII, VIII, IX: www.confemen.org