English Divide in Francophone West Africa

Mawa Samb offers solutions to the challenges created by teaching across a language divide

Sub Saharan Africa ranks among the regions in the world where education exclusion is the highest. In fact, according to UNESCO Information Statistics: “Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14.”. This situation is likely to get worse as the area’s youth population is growing, creating even more demand for schooling. French, being the main official language, is taught from primary school to university level whereas English lessons start in middle school in public schools. Many private institutions, however, start it at elementary school, so paying students get an advantage over their peers in the public sector. The situation is also complicated by the fact that many teachers are either undertrained or untrained, not having had any pre- or in service career training. This exacerbates the divide between well-off areas and poorer remote areas where students can’t access English instruction and, if they do, it’s at very low levels due mainly to their instructors’ lack of training. This is clearly out of line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), mainly SDG4, the education goal which advocates that ; 
“All people, irrespective of sex, age, race, color, ethnicity, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or birth, as well as persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations or other status, should have access to inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities.”

In our Francophone areas, privileged kids get an advantage over many of their peers living in underprivileged areas with overcrowded classrooms, sometimes exceeding one hundred students per classroom. To tackle this issue, we’re going to analyze the challenges faced by teachers whose students face a language divide and then, we’re going to try and suggest some ways to remedy this issue through the use of programs, trainings, and registrations of teachers to English teachers associations (TAs). Both at local and international levels, membership of TESOL International could reduce this language divide, or better, eliminate it.

Undertrained and Untrained Teachers
Historically, the English language wasn’t widely used in Francophone West Africa, so most partners and donors competed to send local students or teachers abroad for immersion training programs in the US or UK. Now, as English doesn’t need any more promotion, with many people using it in their jobs, most partners no longer feel the need to invest in teacher training. On top of which, most budgets have been cut because of recurrent economic crises hitting the world, including our development partners. Pre-service centers train very few student teachers even though there’s a big teacher shortage. In-service training isn’t taken seriously by the authorities and some teachers, as it’s not mandatory. There’s also rampant recruitment of untrained teachers whose English proficiency is very low. Another significant hurdle is the inaccessibility of relevant and updated ELT materials, adequate curriculum, textbooks, and exam prep training. Finally, there is the issue of overcrowded classes with many classrooms having more than a hundred students and temporary shelters being used as classrooms in some areas. Most students cannot afford to buy textbooks or the resources that would help them follow the classes correctly: « Many excellent resource books have been written for EFL teachers, but most of them include a lot of activities which rely on certain facilities being readily available. Teachers in developing countries won’t have access to video machines, OHPs or cassette recorders. The nearest photocopier could be many miles away. In some countries, teachers might not have a blackboard or even a classroom. »(Marsland, B, 1998)

Training Opportunities with the Access Program
Aware of the disparity existing between schools, the US State Department Access program stepped in and tried to come to the help of students in their last two years of Middle School : “The English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) provides a foundation of English language skills to bright, economically disadvantaged students, primarily between the ages of 13 to 20, in their home countries. Access programs give participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects. Participants also gain the ability to compete for and participate in future exchanges and study in the United States” . In reality, this program only targets students aged between 14 and 16, and it is restricted to underprivileged areas, offering extra English classes to students once or twice a week and everyday during the spring or Christmas break. Not only does the program empower students who may be eligible for the exchange programs of the US State Department, but it also trains its teachers and provides them a lot of teaching resources, professional development opportunities and documents.

The Crucial Role of Teacher Associations
There is also the role of English Teacher Associations (TA) creating suitable environments for professional developments through their activities with their Ministry of Education or with partners such as US RELOs and the British Council. In many cases, Teacher Associations support professional development opportunities by organizing workshops, conventions, English Language Days, symposiums, and recently, webinars and online trainings. The deficit of training can’t entirely be resolved by these structures, but at least, they help teachers know about the latest techniques and methods in the ELT field, give them opportunities to fully practice speaking English with its various facets, enable them to develop professionally with the help of experts, trainers, seasoned teachers, and develop exchanges with local and international peers. For instance, TAs in Senegal and Mali, frequently organize events and sometimes invite experts and ELT practitioners to come and share their experiences with teachers.

Though TAs can support teachers efficiently, the other great issue is that many teachers aren’t members of their TAs for various reasons ranging from being unaware of their benefits to teachers reluctancy to pay membership fees. Some simple problems make it extremely difficult for teachers to become members of international organizations such as TESOL International Association. A case in point is the fact that many teachers can’t pay with an ATM card, and membership fees aren’t low enough to allow the majority to join TESOL. The sad reality is that with the difference of standards of living, it’s almost impossible for most teachers to become members of TESOL International Association because whenever US dollars are converted into local currencies, the amount becomes extremely high and inaccessible for teachers. The same applies to the books and resources sold by TESOL and similar organizations. Underprivileged areas are left behind as prices are extremely high for teacher’s in low income countries. Even if efforts have been made to encourage members in low income countries outside the US through the global membership platform, there still remains a lot to be done to make TESOL and other associations more inclusive, more diverse and less US-centered. In that respect, investigating about other payment modes used in the rest of the world could help solve the issue. However, TESOL’s Diversity Equity Inclusion and Access (DEIA) initiative states ;

TESOL promotes equitable representation, engagement and broad access to professional opportunities for all and works to eliminate any kind of discrimination including, but not limited to, language background, race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion and belief, age, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, culture, appearance, or geographic location 

It would be beneficial for TESOL to organize and host a major event every two to four years outside of the US in places where large numbers of teachers aren’t able to join TESOL or don’t even know of its existence. It may even be possible for TESOL to have all its newsletters published by its various Interest Sections reach all parts of the world through a sponsorship that could be made effective by all our partners through its DEIA initiative. Due to the scarcity of training opportunities, all the TESOL webinars also could reach many more teachers who would use online resources to access relevant and updated ELT materials.

Conclusion
In line with its DEIA, it seems logical for TESOL to make additional efforts to support the rest of the world even if COVID made international efforts difficult both financially and structurally. The reality is that there are large groups of teachers around the world yearning for guidance, training, resources, and professional development. TESOL’s leadership could help teachers advance professionally. Organizing events, such as symposiums, conferences, or webinars, in underprivileged areas may not be profitable but they do provide an opportunity to advertise the association, provide resources, foster collaboration, and consequently, create a more diverse and sustainable organization.

Fulbright Exchange Teacher, Dr. Mawa Samb is currently a teacher trainer and instructor. He is also a consultant for the Lauder Institute Immersion Program of Pennsylvania University, WAEMU Baccalaureate and the British Council. He also teaches at Ecole Superieure Polytechnique de Dakar in the IT Department. Former ATES President, he is currently serving on the TESOL International Assocation Board of Directors (2021-2024) and won the 2016 TESOL Best Practicing Teacher Award.

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