Feature

Teaching Point

School doors open in Burkina Faso

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Every time I pay Gideon, our night guard, he grimaces with embarrassment as he picks up a pen to sign his pay slip. Gideon doesn’t know how to hold the instrument correctly, much less write his name. So I point out the appropriate place to sign and he scribbles. Gideon is just one of millions of African adults who have never learned to read or write.

Africa lags behind the rest of the world in many areas, such as literacy, life expectancy rates and gross domestic product. But literacy and education are the most critical, as they affect all of the others.

The Need

In her recent book, Education in Africa, Suzanne Grant Lewis writes, “A child in Europe or North America will, on average, receive five more years of schooling than a child in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa has the lowest enrollment ratios of any region of the world at both the primary and secondary levels.” In 2000, only 51.4 percent of boys and 38.9 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa were enrolled in school.

African children who are privileged to attend school encounter learning conditions grossly inferior to those in the West. Classrooms without computers or books are the norm. Elementary school teachers have more than 100 students in one class, with no teaching assistant. Many students don’t have money for books. It is no wonder that the majority of African children never reach secondary school.

Burkina Faso, the small, landlocked West African country where I live, is said to have the lowest literacy rate in the world. Experts estimate that 75 percent or more of the population, like Gideon, can neither read nor write. Burkina’s low literacy rate is aggravated by low school enrollment, one of the lowest on the African continent. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, only 15 percent of Burkina’s population age 25 and older has benefited from formal schooling.

Lycée Maranatha

Recognizing this huge need and opportunity, the Alliance Church in Burkina Faso founded Lycée Maranatha, a Christian middle school and high school, in September 1990 in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso. Denominational leaders were eager to provide students with a quality Christian education in Burkina’s second largest city. But they were also eager to reach lost students with the gospel and to train leaders who could impact both the church and the nation.

After Lycée Maranatha administrators secured property in Bobo-Dioulasso, they went searching for funds to build classrooms and desks. CAMA (Compassion and Mercy Associates) helped to fund some of the first buildings on the new campus, and other friends loaned money for desks and school furnishings.

It was a huge step of faith for the Alliance Church leaders. They had invested heavily and had no guarantees that the school would succeed. But their faith was quickly rewarded. When the school opened on September 17, 1990, enrollment reached 350 students! Before long, loans were repaid, and the school was operating in the black.

Since 1990 Lycée Maranatha has grown in size and reputation. During the past decade, Principal Simeon Keita has provided the school with excellent leadership. Alliance missionary Mary Crowgey has also invested heavily in student scholarships and the school’s infrastructure. A library and computer lab was built in 2001, a cafeteria was completed in 2004 and another classroom building was added in 2007. These improvements and above-average test scores have helped the school to attract more students. In fact, during the past two school years, enrollment has reached 1,000.

Ironically, fewer than 6 percent of these students come from Christian homes. Even non-Christian parents are willing to pay a little extra to enroll their children in a Christian school like Lycée Maranatha, where discipline is stricter and students are apt to get a good education. Blessed with a good reputation, Lycée Maranatha has a huge opportunity to reach students with the gospel and to disciple them in the faith. A full-time chaplain organizes chapels and evangelistic outreaches and teaches the religion classes. Thanks to these efforts, dozens of students come to know Christ every year through the ministry of Lycée Maranatha. In fact, Principal Simeon Keita estimates that, since 1990, more than 1,200 students have made decisions to follow Christ.

Following the Lead

Lycée Maranatha is the first of four schools founded by the Burkina Alliance Church. God is also at work at The Alliance Christian School (LAC), a boarding school for middle-school aged boys in Ouagadougou, the nation’s capitol. During a recent Saturday morning visit, I was overwhelmed to see dorm room after dorm room bustling with the energy of 20 residents each. While it seemed overcrowded to me, the parents were not complaining. In fact, enrollment has surpassed 400 students, and school administrators are planning for continued growth, especially at the high school level.

Lycée Bethel is a technical school in the town of Dédougou that provides graduates with a diploma in accounting. When we visited in March 2008, my friends and I were troubled to discover that the computer lab was packed with more than 100 sixth grade students—but no computers.

Recognizing the obvious need for more classrooms, my friends enabled Bethel to construct a new building with four new classrooms. When we returned in March 2009, we were thrilled to discover that these classrooms were filled and the computer lab was stocked with nearly a dozen computers. Last school year, 671 students were enrolled.

Several years ago the Colma Alliance Church in Bobo-Dioulasso asked local authorities for land for a church, youth center and Christian school. In January 2006, their prayer was finally granted. In September 2007, a church building was dedicated on the new 11-acre property. In September 2008 a new Christian school was opened, the Alliance’s first elementary school in Bobo-Dioulasso. Due to a late start, the school opened with just one first grade class of 13 students. But 12 of them are from non-Christian homes, and the school is poised for explosive growth in the coming years.

More Schools Envisioned

In March 2007, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) hosted a round table in Johannesburg for Christian school educators throughout Africa. Six delegates from the Burkina Alliance national church and mission attended. These leaders identified 15 towns where they hope to open Christian schools over the next decade.

The doors have never been so wide open to the Christian school movement in Burkina Faso. Alliance missionary Debbi Clouser serves on Burkina’s national ACSI board. Even political leaders are encouraging the development of Christian schools and are enrolling their own children.

The Burkina Alliance national church and mission are eager to move through this open door and build new Christian schools throughout Burkina Faso. Immediate plans are to open a technical school in the town of Hounde in September 2010. In addition, field director Steve Nehlsen reports that the C&MA church has properties for six elementary schools and five high schools. “As soon as funding can be found, building will start,” he says.

Please pray that God will guide and provide as we work together to establish Christian schools and seek to disciple students in the Christian faith.

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