In Burkina Faso, education has always been given according to the educational system inherited from France, the colonizing country, except for some minor changes and adjustments now and then. This system affects the administration of education at all levels (primary, secondary, and higher education), and concerns all schools and teaching institutions, public and private. The teaching curricula, including syllabi, schedules, exams, marking systems and, to some extents, textbooks are centrally determined and managed by the Ministry of Basic Education, and the Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education and of Scientific Research.
Burkinabe children enter class one of primary school at age seven. Teaching is entirely in French. The majority of teachers are certified, having first graduated from four-year general study secondary schools, and then been trained at two-year schoolmasters training schools. At the end of their six-year studies, the pupils must take a final exam to get elementary school completion certificates, which will allow them to the register in secondary schools. The six years are actually subdivided into three courses of two years each.
Secondary education is divided into two main parts: the junior high school level and the senior high school level.
1. The junior high school education consists in a four-year study program. Admission is open to any student who has completed primary school and obtained a certificate. Curricula mainly include general studies in Letters and Languages (French, German, Arabic and Spanish), Geography and History, Sciences (Biology/Geology/Zoology, Physics and Chemistry)and Mathematics. At the end of this four-year junior high study program, students take an exam that entitles them to the junior high school completion diploma. After that, if a student chooses not to attend a senior high school for further general studies, he is authorized to compete for entrance in junior high level vocational schools for two or three-year professional training as primary schoolmasters, nurses, midwives, police, customs or public administration clerks.
2. The senior high school education consists in a three-year general study program closing with the baccalaureate exam. Upon obtaining this diploma, the student can enroll in a university.
The majority of the teaching staffs at the junior and senior high schools are national citizens graduated mostly from African and European universities, and a few European expatriates and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.
III. University education
There are currently three established institutions of higher education: the University of Ouagadougou, the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso, and the Teachers Training College of Koudougou.
a. Created in 1974, the University of Ouagadougou is currently composed of five teaching units:
- the Faculty of Languages, Letters, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
- the Faculty of Science and Technology
- the Faculty of Economics and Management
- the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, and
- the Faculty of Health Care Sciences.
b. Established at the beginning of the 1995-96 academic year in the second largest city known as the economic capital city of the country, the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso is composed of three teaching units:
- The University Institute of Technology which trains students in Business
Administration and Secretarial Work;
- The Institute for Rural Development which is a college of Agriculture, Forestry, and Environmental Studies; and
- The Higher School of Computer Sciences which provides a study program for computer software and hardware technicians.
c. The Teachers' Training College of Koudougou, is based in the third most important city of the country. It offers a two-year postgraduate training program for secondary school teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum developers and inspectors of secondary school education.
That system of faculties, institutes and schools prevailing in Burkina Faso educational structure is the result of reorganization initiated by government authorities in 1991. That reform aimed at establishing more appropriate groupings, by reducing the number of teaching units, and making university education accessible to a greater number of candidates.
Admission to university is limited to students who have obtained the baccalaureate degree after seven years of secondary education.
Like most francophone and African universities, the institutions of higher education work according to a three-academic cycle system of training in all academic fields and disciples:
- In all the faculties, except for that of Health Care Sciences, the first
academic cycle consists in a two-year study program offering the first cycle
diploma. Only students who obtained this diploma are authorized to continue
their university studies.
- The second academic cycle consists in another two-year study program. At the end of the first year, students receive a diploma which is approximately equivalent to a Bachelor's degree in the U.S. educational system. Upon completion of the second year, another degree is awarded, which might be equal to final honours in the British system.
- The third academic cycle, which consists in a research training program and leads to the diploma of doctorate, takes three years after the previous degree. At the end of the first year of this cycle, the student may receive either a post-graduate diploma which may correspond to a Master's degree in the U.S and British systems.
Only the Faculty of Health Care Sciences awards doctoral degrees in Pharmacy after six years of study, and medical doctorates after a seven-year study program, since 1994. All the other faculties and teaching units have been offering study programs for the doctorate degree since 1998. A study program for the "doctorat d'état", the highest degree in the francophone educational system, is now offered in the following academic fields: Economics and Developmental Socio-Economics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Linguistics, Applied Biological Sciences, Private Law and Tax System, Business Law, International Economic Law, and African History and Archaeology.
Recently, the student population has increased by nearly 62 per cent, to currently reach almost a total of 10,000 students, with a breakdown of 8,000 students at the University of Ouagadougou, 600 at the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso and 500 at the Teachers Training College of Koudougou.
This huge increase is mainly due to the building of facilities, the growing demand for higher education in a population which has a particularly heavy concentration of young people and because of students from other African countries (e.g. Chad, Gabon, Burundi, Rwanda, D.R.Congo, Mauritius, Comoros, etc.). About twenty-two nationalities are currently represented on the Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and Koudougou campuses.
The departments of Humanities and Social Sciences receive more than one-third of all the enrollments; the scientific and medical departments represent just over one-fourth; and the legal and economic sectors receive almost one-fourth; the remainder consists of enrollments in technological, technical, professional and vocational institutions.
The higher education teaching staff in Burkina Faso mainly consists of permanent and temporary national personnel, and of some third-country visiting scholars and missionary teachers:
The permanent national staff is made of government employees. They are teachers and researchers with their doctorate degrees (the minimum level required), and who are recruited as assistant lecturers. This status is renewed each year up to a maximum of five years, until the incumbents meet the requirements for promotion to the grade of junior lecturer. Those who do not meet these requirements within the lead-time are dismissed. Only the junior lecturers are tenured. Junior lecturers develop into senior lecturers. The highest grade of this education system is that of full professors.
b. Temporary part-time staff:
Most of the temporary staff are local or foreign personnel with very specific competencies and experiences, (i.e., Law, Political Sciences, Economics, Environmental Sciences, etc.), who are recruited part-time each academic year as needed, and generally from ministerial departments, to make up for the lack of permanent staff.
c. Third-country visiting scholars and teachers:
Higher education in Burkina Faso also benefits from the services of foreign teachers and lecturers under the auspices of some bi-lateral exchange programs between Burkina Faso and some European countries (France, Great-Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany), and the United States of America (for the CIES-administered Fulbright programs, the IIE-managed university affiliations program, and the Peace Corps volunteers program.)
This profile of Burkina Faso’s educational system and the current trends in its higher education are the direct results and accomplishment of the reforms and adjustments proposed under a ten-year development plan (1996-2005) for higher education in Burkina Faso. This 1996-2005 development plan was agreed upon at the conclusion of a national symposium on higher education in 1995, and at a 1998 meeting of the national council for higher education and scientific research attended by Burkina Faso’s bilateral and multilateral partners. Those two meetings gathered officials from all of the ministerial departments involved in education in Burkina Faso, representatives of parents, representatives from students' organizations, the IMF, and bilateral sponsors.
This long-term plan supposingly aims mainly at improving the relevance and quality of Burkina's higher education, at better adapting the training profile to the needs of the national labor market, at increasing research and development equipment and teaching capacities and facilities.