For Greater Literacy, Go Local
Inter Press Service News Agency
September 19, 2005
OUAGADOUGOU, Sep 19 (IPS) - In 1990, Burkinabe linguist Benoit Ouoba used his
own funds to set up a teaching programme with a difference: it focused on using
local languages to develop literacy, rather than the customary French.
Fifteen years later, the ‘Tin Tua’ method of teaching has significantly
improved literacy in the eastern Gulmu region where it was introduced,
attracting the attention of international donors in the process.
Tin Tua, meaning ‘Let’s Develop Ourselves by Ourselves’, is drawn from
Gulmancema – one of the mosT widely spoken languages in Burkina Faso.
The teaching method requires that a student become literate in Gulmancema – or
another local language such as Fulfulde, Moore or Haussa – before going on to
lessons in French. This is coupled with an attempt to deepen students’ cultural
awareness through giving them access to a collection of traditional, local
The programme caters for various age groups. According to Ouoba, almost a
third of the adult population in Gulmu has passed through Tin Tua literacy
centres, with men and women being equally represented. The centres are called "Banma
Nuara" – another Gulmancema term meaning "Wake Up".
"Adults who aren't able to go to high school at least know how to read and
write in their own languages. That's progress," Moussa Sanou, a linguist at the
University of Montreal in Canada, told IPS.
Sanou conducts research in Burkina Faso on the relationship between French and
the local Burkinabe languages.
In 1992, the Tin Tua project founded a newspaper called ‘Laabaali’, which
means "News" in several West African languages. The paper publishes articles in
local languages so that those who have become literate in these languages can
maintain their skills.
The effectiveness of the Tin Tua approach can be seen in the high pass rates
for students who sit Burkina Faso’s national primary school exam. A number of
people have also gone on to acquire secondary school qualifications.
Those too old for high school can take advantage of an institute that was
opened by Tin Tua in 2004 to provide lessons in agriculture, animal breeding and
crafts. Students are also taught mathematics and basic economics, and they learn
about hygiene and the environment.
In addition, the course schedule allows for free time in which they can take
part in income-generating activities, such as soap making.
"I think the Tin Tua example should be imitated. The government is going to
join with all technical and financial partners to reproduce it in every region,"
Prime Minister Ernest Paramanga Yonli said earlier this year during ceremonies
to mark Tin Tua's fifteenth anniversary.
In fact, Tin Tua has already started to make its mark on the national
education system. Just over a decade ago, only two classes in the entire country
were taught in both local languages and French. Today, several primary schools
offer bilingual instruction – although no secondary schools do so as yet.
Ninety percent of instruction at these primary schools takes place in native
languages initially – and the remaining 10 percent in French. French takes on
greater importance over the following five years, until 90 percent of
instruction is conducted in French – and only 10 percent in local languages.
Teachers receive ongoing training on how to teach in local languages.
Again, the success rate of pupils from these schools who sit the national
primary school exam bears witness to the effectiveness of bilingual education.
Over 94 percent of students passed the test in 2004, while only about 74 percent
did so nationally.
"Its usefulness (instruction in local languages) is that it facilitates
learning," says Sanou. "With local languages, children learn more quickly. You
can do primary school in five years instead of six."
The high pass rates at bilingual schools have not convinced everyone of the
virtues of this approach, however.
"I think its usefulness is purely local…Outside of Burkina, what can you do
with a local language? Can you send someone you don't know e-mail in Moore or
Gulmancema?" asks Nestor Coulibaly, a teacher at a bilingual school the north of
However, Sanou defends bilingualism: "To democratise education in Africa, we
need to find an effective strategy for using local and vernacular languages for
The Tin Tua method of instruction may ultimately hold appeal far beyond the
borders of Gulmu, for governments which are grappling with the challenge of
providing universal primary education by 2015.
This is one of eight objectives laid out in the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs), agreed on by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in
2000. The MDGs also focus – in part – on halving extreme hunger and poverty, and
reducing child and maternal mortality. (END/2