Associates in Research and Education for Development (ARED) implemented a bilingual education program in Senegal to help students master French by first establishing basic reading skills in their native language (Wolof or Pulaar) and eventually transferring those skills into French. The program was broken down into 3 modules:

  • Module 1: Students strengthen their literacy skills in their mother tongue while simultaneously developing skills in French.
  • Module 2: Students are able to recognize the similarities between the two languages. This module helps students to begin reading in French based on the similarities in the languages.
  • Module 3: Students are able to recognize the differences between the two languages including understanding differences in pronunciation.

ARED developed textbooks and workbooks for students (see links below), which focused on teaching literacy and numeracy in Wolof or Pulaar. Teachers were given teacher guides and were trained three different times throughout the academic year during school holidays (summer, Christmas, and Easter holidays) to preserve teacher presence during official school hours.

Overcoming challenges

ARED faced a number of obstacles in implementing the bilingual pilot program. The first obstacle was limited support by the Ministry of National Education (MEN) for the inclusion of the program in public classrooms. Because of this, ARED launched their first year with an afterschool program, which was based in the public schools and used public school teachers but was conducted after school hours after the completion of a standard school day. ARED provided the teachers with a supplementary stipend to participate in the program. ARED also created a committee within the MEN, comprised of the various Ministry offices related to the bilingual program. This technical and pedagogical committee (ETP) supported and followed the ARED pilot exercise throughout the year. Towards the end of the first school year, ARED held an assessment workshop with the MEN to present a summary of findings from the first year pilot, during which Ministry staff and teaching personnel presented their strong support of the project. Parents and community elders also came forward during this workshop to describe the increased comfort level they saw in children’s ability to read and speak French. Following this workshop, ARED crossed over one of its greatest hurdles as MEN agreed to allow ARED to launch its pilot during regular classroom hours in their pilot schools. This was a major turning point for ARED and the sustainability of the pilot.

Once ARED’s bilingual pilot moved into standard classroom hours, the second obstacle became parent attitudes towards the bilingual program. Some parents were concerned that the bilingual approach would only teach their children mother-tongue languages and that their children may lose a year of academic work and fall behind other standard classrooms. In order to address this perception, ARED organized community-based information and awareness-raising campaigns which explained clearly that the program would follow the same curriculum and help students to learn French simultaneously as they were learning to read in mother-tongue languages. Following the community sensitization, most parents agreed to have their children in the program.  However, some parents still refused. By the middle of the school year, a number of these parents approached ARED asking if their children could be placed in the ARED classrooms as they saw that the children in those classrooms appeared to be more adept at reading and speaking French.

Success factors

A key element to ARED’s ongoing success in this pilot has been the high level of testing that was done, allowing for comparison between ARED classes and standard classes.  During ARED’s first year in classrooms, MEN inspectors used standardized testing to assess student reading and math levels. In the second year of ARED in-classroom work, an external evaluation led by MEN was conducted by the MEN assessment unit. In the third year, Dalberg, a private international research firm, conducted testing comparing ARED classrooms with standard classrooms.  This research has consistently shown that students in ARED classrooms have higher levels of reading and math fluency as compared to standard classrooms. ARED has found this data to be extremely helpful in making the case for bilingual curriculum.   

Below are a few examples of teacher guides developed by ARED for teaching a bilingual curriculum (using French and the local language, Wolof or Pulaar depending on the region).