Web connection leads to a wider world

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Partnership between one school in Scotland and another in Burkina Faso is bringing net gains for both

In a country where books are "rare", internet access can be key.

"We don't have many books - we don't have a library," says Dramane Ouedraogo, headteacher of the College Boulmiougou Evangelique in Burkina Faso.

So last year, when teachers and pupils from the independent Hamilton College, in South Lanarkshire, connected the African school's computer room to the internet, it had a huge impact - not just on the pupils but on teacher training.

Teachers now use the internet to pick up tips, refresh their knowledge and investigate topics - The TES website has even been accessed to aid their professional development.

Pupils go online to carry out research for homework investigations and keep in touch with what is going on in the wider world. And, on a personal level, Mr Ouedraogo has been using the web to follow the climate-change debates which have been raging recently.

On their visits to Burkina Faso, which began in summer 2008, Hamilton College staff and pupils have also been responsible for building a bike shed at the school, drawing murals to add some colour to the kindergarten and teaching English lessons.

"The pupils use bikes to get to and from school, but if the heat is allowed to beat down on the rubber tyres, it destroys them," says David Browning, a computing teacher at Hamilton College, who accompanied seven pupils last year and will take out another 11 this summer.

But it's not all one-way traffic, insists Mr Ouedraogo. There is a lot Scotland can learn from Africa.

"My school is located in one of the poorest areas of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso's capital)," he says. "Life is a permanent struggle for survival for most of the pupils here. Being from poor backgrounds, some of them walk many kilometres to come to school and stay there all day long without food. Others can't afford the basics - books and pens - for their studies and they live in slums.

"Hamilton College and Scotland can have an insight into how needy pupils like mine are still keen on learning. Despite the extreme poverty that wreaks havoc on most of their families, they yearn to get education while the well- off ones, like some of those in Scotland, don't find interest in school education."

The link also gives both sets of pupils an insight into another culture, says Mr Ouedraogo: "The contact gives another world perspective to the pupils from both schools."

Fraser Smith admits he had a bad attitude at school. But a trip to Africa last summer, when he was in S6 at Hamilton, made him appreciate the value of education; now he is harbouring ambitions to go to university and train to be a teacher.

"I was shy when it came to the classroom," says Fraser, who left Hamilton College last year. "I didn't really want to do the work. Then I got over there and found out how much they enjoyed coming to school.

"I didn't enjoy coming to school, to be honest, but that changed me, to think that people would actually jump the wall to try and get in."

He describes the two-week stay in Africa as "absolutely heartbreaking but phenomenal".

"When I hit sixth year and started to find out about Africa, that changed my thinking," says Fraser, now 18 and working as a restaurant manager.

The effect of the trip on many of the pupils, each of whom has to raise pound;1,500 in order to go to Africa, has been profound, says Mr Browning. "It's a wonderful thing for the kids. Seeing the Third World makes them realise how fortunate they are. They come back and they are, literally, changed people."

The link has been "hugely beneficial" and has brought the school, which consists of a nursery, primary and secondary, together, says headteacher Margaret Clarke.

"Because we are an independent school, some of the pupils come from a more sheltered environment and this just opens their eyes."

Now a grant from the British Council has been secured to allow the schools to deepen their relationship. The funding will pay for a teacher exchange and later this year Mr Ouedraogo hopes to set foot in a western country for the first time.

Money was raised previously by Hamilton College for Mr Ouedraogo to make the trip, but he failed to secure a visa - because he was in his 30s and single he was deemed high risk. They hope that this time, with the backing of the British Council, he will succeed in making it out of Africa.

To watch a short film about Hamilton College's links with Burkina Faso schools:

- http:slvtv.southlanarkshire.tv



- Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa, next to Ghana. It gained independence from the French in 1960 and has an estimated population of more than 15 million.

- Pupils at the College Boulmiougou Evangelique, which is run by evangelical charity AEAD, principally speak the tribal language More and French.

- The school day starts at 7am and ends at 5pm with a two-hour break for lunch. Class sizes range from 40-50 pupils, but in state schools they are far larger. The legal limit is 65 students, but in many rural areas classes are bigger because of the lack of schools. According to Dramane Ouedraogo, headteacher of College Boulmiougou Evangelique, they often range from 70 to 100 pupils.

- Public education is free and, theoretically, compulsory for all children aged seven to 14, but attendance is not enforced. In 2002 only 36 per cent of eligible children attended primary school.

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