Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Blame the System

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Blame the System

Article excerpt

Violence in schools of Francophone Africa doesn't come from the pupils, but from the system itself, says a Burkinabe expert

Lord, I don't want to go to school any more.

This "Prayer of a Small Black Child," written in the 1950s by the Guadeloupean author Guy Tirolien, remains sadly relevant in black Africa, where schools heap violence upon children from day one.

Please, I beg you, take me away from it."

In Burkina Faso, for example, children have to switch from their mother tongue to a foreign one-French--without the slightest psychological adjustment. From October 1 in the year they turn seven, children are forbidden from speaking vernacular languages--such as Moore, Peuhl or Dioula--at school. They learn how to read and write in a foreign tongue, through stories about French villages with their church bells and lessons that will teach them more about Paris than Ouagadougou, their country's capital. Humiliating punishment, such as being forced to wear a donkey's skull around one's neck with a sign reading "Donkey, speak French!" only reinforces the sense that school is a place rife with conflict.

The school timetable is another source of stress. The few teachers who have the intelligence and courage to allow a break at nine in the morning- so that children who take animals out to pasture at 5am can rest and have a snack-are criticized for not respecting the official 10:30 pause.

For the African child, society as a whole--including the village and the fields, especially during the harvest season-are invaluable occasions for socialization and non-formal education. But as soon as they enter a classroom, learning from one's peers in the village is over. There is no reward or value attached to helping one another, respecting one's elders or the pride of belonging to a family or clan for whose well-being no sacrifice is too great. Instead the child is encouraged to adopt a competitive attitude and a brazen individualism that leads to depersonalization, sometimes even to alienation.

Passive resistance

For the moment, we only see school violence on television. Here in Africa, the issue is the other way round. The classic school, created by the French colonial rulers, is an act of violence against the child, and against Burkinabe society itself. …

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