Bi-Songo: early childhood education
Community childcare support spaces, better known as “Bi-Songo” in Mooré, are non-formal early childhood care and development structures, family spaces based on a system of solidarity and mutual support for parents. With the meaningful involvement of communities, the Bi-Songo look after children between the ages of 3 and 6 years old by offering integrated services in four priority areas: early learning and education, health and nutrition, water, hygiene and sanitation, and protection.
Early childhood care was integrated into the Burkinabe education system as early as 1958, with the first pre-school established in Bobo-Dioulasso. Although it is the oldest component of the Burkinabe education system, it remained almost exclusively in the private domain for a very long time, for a minority of children from well-to-do backgrounds. It was between 1979 and 1984 that UNICEF supported the State’s experiment with pre-school education in rural areas, in Lugsi, about 25 km from Ouagadougou. The aim was to promote better access to education for all children, especially girls, and to offer integrated services linked to early childhood needs. Since 1995, the government of Burkina Faso has initiated an integrated early childhood development approach with the construction of ten pilot schools in three provinces (Bazéga: 3 villages; Kadiogo: 4 villages; and Sanguié: 3 villages). The Bi-Songo approach encourages the integration of schooling into children’s linguistic, cultural and geographic environments. The approach is entirely community-based, and aims to create a “village school” spirit, and not a “school in the village”.
The notion of “Bi-Songo” is inspired by the saying “Bi-Songo ya neb fâa biiga, la Bi-Yoogo ya a mâ biiga” – a Bi-Songo is a polite, well-educated child who is appreciated by the community. A genuine innovation in the field of early childhood care, the Bi-Songo project is a community response to the shortcomings observed in the educational conditions for children aged 3 to 6 in rural and semi-urban areas. The approach aims to promote the integral development of young children in order to prevent impaired physical, mental and psycho-affective development resulting from poor health and nutritional monitoring, parental illiteracy and their precarious situation. Based on a multi-sector approach, the Bi-Songo offer services in four priority areas: early learning-education, health-nutrition, water-hygiene-sanitation and protection. In this manner, the Bi-Songo offer an integrated range of services with the meaningful involvement of families based on their possibilities.
The Bi-Songo are run by monitors who are recruited from within the community. The community appoints these “little mothers and little fathers” who are in charge of ensuring the children’s stimulation and the functioning of the Bi Songo.
Administration is carried out by a Management Committee which is in charge of a community fund, mainly financed by parents’ contributions. The National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Development (PNDIPE) defines the following four objectives:
- To free up mothers and give them time for literacy activities and/or generating income
- To foster education for girls in order to bridge the traditional gap between girls and boys in rural areas
- To place emphasis on the child as a whole, by coordinating services for his/her development (nutritional and health monitoring, stimulation, socialisation).
- To prepare children for further stages of education (primary, secondary).
Bi-Songo are built close to primary schools to facilitate the transition from one to the next. In view of the high demand from parents, the capacity of the schools, initially set at 60 children, is very often doubled or even tripled.
Several assessments have shown that Bi-Songo students perform better in school than those who are enrolled directly in mainstream schools without having gone through pre-school learning. To date, more than 10 000 children (50% of whom are girls) are in pre-school thanks to Bi-Songo.
Impacts on early childhood development:
- Better overall care for young children (food and nutritional security, stimulation, learning, etc.).
- Better academic performance
- Childcare in secure locations
Impacts on the socio-economic environment:
- Providing girls with access to the education system, and keeping them enrolled
- Better nationwide school enrolment rates
- Genuine reduction in mothers’ workloads offering them the possibility to carry out other income-generating activities
- Training and employment opportunities for young parents (knowledge building, monthly allowance paid to the “little mothers” and “little fathers”, etc.)
- Promotion of national and local languages
- Involvement of the State and its partners in the construction of Bi-Songo schools
- Buy-in and strong community participation
- Identification and strengthening of the capacities of the “little mothers” and “little fathers” (school instructors/monitors)
- Quality education; use of national languages; geographic and cultural proximity
- Initial cost of building and maintaining schools
- Regular payment of parent-teachers
- Securing of children’s learning spaces
- Development of a holistic approach addressing all aspects of early childhood (multi-sector approach)
- Provision of agro-pastoral products by parents for children and sufficient food supplies
- Providing girls with access to the education system, and keeping them enrolled, has been facilitated
- Protecting children’s rights fosters the full development of their potential
- The Bi-Songo contribute to the greater economic empowerment and knowledge building of women
- Enrolment rates have increased in remote areas
Over 200 Bi-Songo schools have been built with support from partners in the different rural communes in Burkina Faso, especially in the Centre-East region. They have been made possible thanks to the will and commitment of the communities. However, despite the government’s efforts, national pre-school coverage remains low (3% of boys and girls between 2008-12, compared to 0.8% in 1996). Bearing in mind that Burkina Faso has about 1.5 million children of pre-school age, enormous efforts are needed to ensure the scaling up of the approach at the national level. Scaling up could be facilitated by wide dissemination of success stories and the results achieved, and by targeted support for volunteer communities.
- Ministère de l’éducation, de l’alphabétisation et la promotion des langues nationales
- Ministère de l’action sociale et de la solidarité nationale
collectivités territoriales et locales
BØRNEfonden, CRS, Save the Children, SE-CNSA, UNICEF
Mr Brama Sessouma, DGEFG/MENA, email
- Burkina Faso
- Local actors & livelihoods
- Social affairs & social protection
- Water & sanitation
- Children aged under 5 years
- Poor households
- Pillar 1: Improve social protection for the most vulnerable communities and households in order to secure their livelihoods
- Pillar 2: Strengthen the nutrition of vulnerable households