DAKAR — In Alieu Samb primary school, in a working-class section of Dakar, second-graders are learning to read in French.
Like most children in Sub-Saharan Africa, they are taught in their country’s common colonial language rather than in their mother tongue.
Linguistics professor Mbacke Diagne, of Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, wants to integrate local languages into the standard teaching curriculum.
He says most children entering primary school in Senegal have been functioning in Wolof for at least seven years beforehand.
“They have structured their world in this language,” he says, “but as soon as they get to school, all this knowledge is set aside in order to impose French.”
Diagne and others believe this slows the learning process and can discourage children from pursuing education.
According to Education Policy and Data Center statistics, Senegal’s youth literacy rate is lower than the average for other lower middle income countries, and more than half of secondary school-age children are out of school.
Organizations such as the Associates in Research and Education for Development have been piloting bilingual teaching programs in Senegalese primary schools.
Awa Ka Dia, the ARED Program Director, explained that children start simultaneously learning French and building literacy skills in either Wolof or Pulaar, which are later used as a base to read in French.
ARED currently operates in 98 primary schools spread between Dakar, the northern city of Saint-Louis, and the town of Kaolack. The pilot program ends this year, and Dia hopes results will encourage the government to fund an extended version, covering more regions and incorporating other local languages.
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