Like all the peoples of Africa, the Lyélé of Burkina Faso often use proverbs to give expression to the values and the wisdom handed down from their ancestors. To take the first step oneself, to rely on one’s own resources, is a fundamental principle of Lyélé society - and a principle that should also be at the centre of all development activity.
The Lyélé are a group of about 200,000 people living in the savannah lands of Burkina Faso. There are some fifty language groups in Burkina Faso and the government stresses literacy in the mother tongue as a very important part of development in the rural areas. At present, fifteen languages are being used for literacy. In the last three years the number of literacy centres and the number of people receiving training in literacy have both increased threefold, indicating the commitment of the government to literacy.
We asked M Tiassaye Ziba, Provincial Director of Basic Education and Mass Literacy, to describe briefly for us some of the ways in which the national literacy programme is helping the Lyélé...
How do the centres operate?
We now have 89 permanent centres for Literacy and Training, 27 of which have been opened by the missions, churches and other private organisations. These centres provide initial literacy and basic follow-up training.
Initial literacy lasts for 300 hours and includes reading, writing, arithmetic and management of small businesses. Training is provided in one of three ways...
Intensive (48 days)
Semi-Intensive (75 days)
Extended (100 days)
Literacy campaigns take place during the dry season, when people are more or less free from work in their fields.
Follow-up training normally lasts five weeks and seeks to reinforce and develop further what was learnt during the initial phase.
How do you encourage the setting up of training centres and motivate people to enrol?
We have a committee including members of the various technical services in the province, non-governmental organisations, and church officials. Members of this committee visit villages which have village associations or other economic groups. The local people are shown the advantages of literacy through explanation and demonstrations at meetings and also by special occasions, such as national literacy week, provincial literacy days, celebrations marking the end of a literacy campaign etc.
How do you recruit and train teachers?
Teachers are recruited from among the members of organisations and churches which are involved in encouraging literacy. We provide training for them at a provincial centre.
How are literacy materials produced?
Several groups combine to produce materials, including the National Literacy Institute, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), the Mass Literacy Department and a Dutch group. Recently trained people are also encouraged to help produce new materials as part of an annual competition which we organise, to encourage the writing of articles in their own language.
We also produce a quarterly newspaper with help from SIL.
In order to encourage self-sufficiency in every stage of the production of written materials, all the post-literacy materials are produced locally by speakers of the language.
What is the role of the churches and missions in literacy?
The missions and churches run the official literacy programme in their centres. We train the teachers and supervisors which they choose and we arrange for the final evaluation of their centres each year. The churches and missions equip their centres and pay their teachers and supervisors according to their means.
We owe much to the missions and churches in the spread of our literacy activity. They contribute to the creation of awareness, they support post-literacy, they support the policy of relying first on one’s own resources.
Relying first on one’s own resources would seem to indicate that you expect the community to help in funding literacy training. What is your own experience in this area?
It’s a matter of choice on the part of those responsible for encouraging literacy. During the discussions before the opening of a centre, the village people and the team from the provincial committee sign a contract. The village association agrees to pay part - usually 20% - of the support for the teacher in the centre. The association is also responsible for finding or constructing a building to house the literacy centre and for organising the feeding of the students. The students buy their own stationery - exercise books, pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers etc.
The government or other groups involved are asked to pay the rest of the support for the literacy teachers, the costs involved in producing teaching materials and for the supply of desks, benches and blackboards for the centres.
We leave the missions free to organise themselves according to their means. All we require of them is respect for the national literacy programme.
I would also like to add that our first contact with Footsteps has been very instructive. The themes developed in Footsteps are simple, clear and understandable; realistic and practical too, I would say. We want to take another step forward in the search for solutions to development problems with Footsteps through this issue.
What about those who take part in the literacy activities themselves? How do they see the value of what they are doing?
Here are messages of encouragement given recently by two lady literacy teachers...
‘Fathers, mothers, sisters, let us unite for the progress of reading in Lyélé. Let us devote the time needed for learning how to read in Lyélé, how to write and how to do arithmetic. Why? Because we know that being able to read Lyélé helps us in everything. It opens our eyes and our understanding and it lifts up our heads. We know that there are some Lyélé people who think that the learning of Lyélé cannot help them. Let’s do all we can to give such people sound advice, so that their understanding can be opened up and that they can learn the value of learning to read Lyélé.’
‘To write and read one’s own language is a good thing for everyone. Before learning to read Lyélé we didn’t know anything. Our minds were closed. But now we have had a change in our way of thinking. For all of this, it is you who have taught us written Lyélé who have helped us to become people of understanding. We didn’t know that our language could become recognised. But God has caused you people of understanding to recognise that it is a very good thing if someone can write and read their own language. We are no longer as we were before. We have changed and can help the one who is lost to return to the path.’
Compiled by Ron and Lyn Stanford who have many years’ experience in Bible translation and literacy work. They are at present working with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, BP 50, Réo, Burkina Faso.