23. June 2017

Learning to fight poverty and extremism

A west African education scheme supported by the Kavli Trust has put 8 000 children back in state school – encouraging growth and helping to keep fundamentalism in check.

Text: Teresa Grøtan

Photos: Strømme Foundation


Burkina Faso has 3.6 million children between the ages of eight and 12 who have either never been to school or dropped out. The Speed School 1 programme is aimed at them.

Organised by Norway’s Strømme Foundation, it has been backed by the Kavli Trust for the past eight years and can point to fantastic results.

No less than 84 per cent of the children who take this nine-month intensive course have passed the test which determines if they can start year four in the state school system.


The foundation has been working in west Africa since 1985. Rune Mørland, its acting communication manager, explains the factors which help to keep children in Burkina Faso out of school.

“Teaching is in French, a language not spoken at village level. Children aged six-seven find it hard to understand what the teacher is saying.

“At the same time, teachers are authoritarian and use the cane. People live in very scattered communities with non-existent infrastructure, so pupils may have to walk 20-30 kilometres in temperatures up to 50°C.”

Burkina Faso also ranks as one of the world’s poorest countries, and children’s work is needed to help ensure that their families have enough to eat.

“It’s not that the family doesn’t understanding the value of education,” observes Mørland. “It’s more a question of survival.”

Knowledge of school conditions in this country was the reason why the foundation began to think along new lines about providing education there.

It came into contact with Denice Dougnon, a professor of higher education at the university in Bamako, the capital of neighbouring Mali. He had been thinking about similar issues and began discussing what could be done with Fadeema Ong, the Strømme Foundation’s local partner. This led to a Speed School pilot in 2006.

Former Speed School pupil, now 5th grade at public school
Rasmata Bonkoungon (12) together with a friend


Burkina Faso lies in a very turbulent part of Africa. Islamic fundamentalists opposed to all female education are strong in parts of this country as well as in Niger and Mali.

“This is a fight over getting there first,” explains Mørland. “Where education is available, the extremists have much greater problems in tightening their grip.

“Organisations like Boko Haram get established where people lack schooling. If young people feel excluded from society, too, the chances they will drop out of school and join such movements are much higher.”

The foundation has observed that fundamentalists place great restrictions on females. They are not allowed to leave their huts, learn to read or write, or go to market.

Former Speed School-boy, Emmanuel Tiendrebeogo


“From our perspective, this is an unhealthy and destructive ideology,” Mørland adds. “Society becomes fragmented. Madrassas – Islamic schools – are set up in some places.

“These serve to indoctrinate the young. Boys are recruited as soldiers, while the girls are meant to stay at home and cook.”

This makes the foundation’s work more demanding in some rural areas, where radicalisation primarily gets a foothold. Government forces have secured good control of security in the big towns during recent years.

“From our perspective, this about being free people and having the same opportunities in life as people in Norway,” affirms Mørland. “Speed School provides no religious instruction.

“The core of our approach is meeting people on their own terms in order to create lasing change. We see that schooling frees people to purse their dreams and understand they have potential.”


Speed School aims to trigger the child’s desire to learn, teaches in the local language as well as in French, and makes provision for group work and more participation in class.

Its pupils have done so well that they achieve better results than children with three years of state schooling. That has aroused government interest, which the foundation welcomes.

“We’ve been invited to talk with Mali’s education minister, and a Speed School secretariat has also been established for Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso,” reports Mørland.

“That is intended to ensure quality assurance and ownership of the concept. These countries are also funding their own Speed Schools over the education budget.

“The most recent development is that we’ve been contacted by the authorities in Benin and the Ivory Coast, who’re interested in learning more about the concept and incorporating it in their national educational policies.”


The Kavli Trust has also provided support for two other Strømme Foundation projects – Speed School 2 for youngsters aged 13-15, and Active Literacy for women in savings and loan groups.

While the last of these has enjoyed the same great success as Speed School 1, the Speed School 2 programme cannot point to good results. It has proved difficult to retain pupils in this age group because they can earn their own money. Catching up with six years of school work in 24 months is also demanding.

Retaining teachers has also been challenging, since these want permanent jobs in the state system. The foundation is currently assessing the programme in a search for improvements.

The Kavli Trust is now withdrawing its support for Speed School 1 after two four-year periods and when the programme is being scaled up substantially. It will now be funded by new international partners such as the Qatar Foundation, the EU development programme and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

“Backing from the Kavli Trust has meant more for us than simply the money we’ve received,” says Mørland. “It showed that the Speed School was able to attract big supporters.

“At the same time, we could scale up and acquire more data, which in turn allowed us to attract other backers. So the first big Kavli grant got the ball rolling.”


Ending its support for Speed School 1 does not mean that the trust’s backing for the programme is over. It recently awarded NOK 5.3 million to a new Speed School concept from the foundation.

This aims to combine vocational training with basic education for young adults who dropped out of school or never attended at all.