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Boarding schools for girls from rural areas:

Beyond a revolution in Niger national education

Interview with Salim Mokaddem, Special Adviser to the President of the Republic of Niger and Head of the Education Unit

Niger's population cruelly lacks access to quality secondary education, especially in rural and nomadic areas. At the Education Summit in New York in September 2022, President Bazoum will meet with donors to present his vision for investment in human capital. The aim will be to raise questions about funding to build 100 boarding schools, initially over the next five years. The aim of this major project is to offer quality secondary education to girls and keep them in school. Indirectly, this strategy will have the potential to prevent early marriages and pregnancies and break the vicious circle combining poverty and high fertility and maternal and infant mortality.

A team from the United Nations Population Fund spoke to Mr Salim Mokkadem to discuss the ins and outs of this project. This article contains the highlights of what he had to say.

What is your personal experience of boarding schools for girls?

I know about boarding schools from a family experience with my sister, who is about ten years older than me, who is a psychiatrist and who lived in boarding schools at secondary level (collège, lycée) at one time. So she was very familiar with boarding schools in the 1960s, at a time when school enrolment, particularly for girls, was extremely high throughout the world, not just in Africa but also in Europe and Asia, as you know, following the tragic events and family and psychosocial upheavals associated with the Second World War and the issues surrounding the emancipation of women and the emergence of gender-related problems. These post-war boarding schools, of a certain type, produced very positive events for a number of reasons.

Firstly, because boarding schools make it possible to make an essential break with the family, cutting the young girl, the pupil, off from a family environment at a given time, and this is very positive overall for the cognitive and emotional growth of the adolescent and for promoting and encouraging socio-emotional and psycho-social maturity. The fact of being able to separate from an environment that can be too fusional, and therefore crush the child's psyche and prevent her from becoming autonomous, especially in a Muslim environment where women are generally subject to a very hierarchical order and patriarchal sovereignty, It allows them to discover themselves as free subjectivities and to take the time to reflect on their existence independently of a normalised, framed, traditional or classic family context, which reproduces the hierarchies and biases of domination that exist in families or school systems such as "gendered" classes that do not allow authentic individual emancipation. So, from an experiential and purely personal point of view, I've been able to see the positive effects of acculturation in the broadest sense of the term, which can be produced by separation from an isolated family group and by cutting a young girl off from an overly traditional and conservative patriarchal environment. The fact of being mixed with other people, other social classes, other families with other histories, other languages or cultures or life experiences, the fact of being able to talk to someone who is truly different, the fact of comparing oneself to an alter ego and confronting other young girls in one's own age group but who are far away from oneself, This has essential psycho-educational benefits and has a positive impact on the development of the individual, on the constitution of the self and subjectivity, on intellectual development, emotional maturity, decentring and critical openness to understanding the world, oneself and others.

The second positive aspect of the boarding school system as a social and pedagogical place concerns, in a way that could be called anthropological, the societal and structural configuration of the societies in which it operates. Niger is part of a Sahelo-Saharan zone. The existence of boarding schools means that young girls are socially protected from political upheaval, border wars, terrorist attacks and the violence endemic to Sahelian society, and can therefore grow up with the emotional and social security that is essential to a child's social and cognitive development. I won't offend you by reminding you how Maslow's pyramid makes sense in the psycho-pedagogical reality of childhood and adolescence; Indeed, the need for security is essential for learners so that they can dare, take risks and take intellectual risks, so that they can build the symbolic link that is essential to the act of abstraction and communication, and also so that they can determine themselves in a certain way, by leaving their comfort zone, their ease, without fear of being misjudged, and so allow themselves to develop and take risks. Because learning is also about taking risks, risking making mistakes, and accepting error as a method of correction, as a way of learning by looking back on oneself and one's mistakes in order to internalise cognitive mental patterns and change one's learning processes and methods. We may come back to these cognitive logics and pedagogical postures, which are essential to understanding and implementing education in teaching and learning. There are inhibiting elements in certain events in traditional culture, in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

In sub-Saharan Africa, mistakes are still considered a sin rather than a tool for progress. You and I also know that, despite the negative nature of error, making mistakes and understanding the logic behind them, recognising them, is essential for progress and advancing our knowledge: unfortunately, in traditional structures, making mistakes is still too often seen as a redhibitory event. In other words, it's thought of and linked to a kind of deficiency, a moral fault, even a sin, so mistakes are correlated with a form of inferiority, an anthropological form of belittlement and powerlessness, shame and stigmatisation. So the fact of being protected, of being safe, in a class, in a boarding school, in an educational structure, allows young girls to have this assurance, to build this emotional security that we all need to learn serenely, and to value this risk-taking skill necessary to develop their intellect and their autonomy. By giving teenage girls emotional security, the boarding school structure enables them to acquire skills that they would not have acquired if they had been kept in other, more closed, conservative and guilt-ridden environments.

The third positive point is one that we can't deny, and it has to do with the fact that Niger is a very poor country. The fact that we are able to have educational structures in which ongoing, continuous teaching is provided by a team of adults - who must, of course, also be trained in specific contexts, because you don't teach in the same way in a boarding school as in a free, open classroom - makes it possible, As well as providing a secure social and educational environment and food, it also means that cohorts of young girls can be monitored at a lower cost. In a way, they will have the educational involvement and monitoring that they would not have had if they had remained in a traditional family environment, which is different from the innovative and secure environment of a boarding school. In other words, the fact of being able to follow, observe and see the children and young girls from morning to night, to note their personal difficulties of a psycho-pedagogical and social nature, to follow their personal development as closely as possible, makes it possible to draw up their cognitive profile and to work according to differentiated assessments, and to make a qualitative assessment of the progress made by the pupils in acquiring knowledge, considered in an individual, global and holistic way, and to follow them in a personalised way, rather than a more or less anonymous general assessment. Within the framework of the standard, classic school, the pupil's individuality and uniqueness are taken into account more than in a so-called normal class, compared to a standard of general, magisterial assessment. But given the micro-societal nature of a boarding school, there is the very real possibility of personalising learning, and this enables individual monitoring and differentiated teaching programmes adapted to the real difficulties and unique cognitive profiles of the pupils.

A fourth positive point that I think is important to mention, and which is a major gain in terms of the citizenship effects it produces, is the professional and institutional reform that this type of structure will produce in adults, and even in children, because they will be obliged to work as a team. In my experience, it's very difficult for teaching teams in Niger to develop the specific skills needed for teamwork. So being in a micro-society that is somewhat isolated from the outside world, with emotional security and food security, will force adults to have responsibilities, to develop programmes, research agendas, to (re-)question, to interact with their peers. What we call, in educational jargon, cognitive social conflicts will pit them against each other, forcing them to live with their differences and to critically and dialectically confront their methods, their ways of working and their points of view. It will be very positive for the adults, for the children, for the teaching teams, and it will also be very positive for the pupils to see that they are being looked after, collectively, and that this does not just come from the outside from a single all-powerful teacher, but that there is self-determination on the part of the teaching and administrative teams, that there are particular agendas and programmes for them, specific assessments, particular teaching events for them, etc. This will also have beneficial effects on the pupils themselves. This will also have beneficial effects on the surrounding society, which will also be concerned by and impacted by the social and educational logic put in place in these boarding schools.

What is this place of diverse movements, ordered, thought out and evaluated, where there are young girls who learn, who go on outings, who have practical and educational activities, who will perhaps write literature, i.e. produce a small printed newspaper, who will have activities with parents, with their peers, with the SMCs, the parents' assemblies, the teaching teams, who will also, in some boarding schools, participate in the co-construction of their schools by building part of the boarding school perimeter walls, and therefore take part in a responsible and committed way in their place of residence, In some boarding schools, they may also take part in the co-construction of their schools by building some of the walls around the boarding schools, and so take part in a responsible and committed way in their place of life, and take part in an essential way in the co-construction of their place of education, if not a place of full and meaningful life for these pupils?.

In conclusion, for these four major reasons, it seems to me that boarding schools, with the required conditions of safety, teacher training and food guarantees, are a relevant educational innovation and should be monitored and supported because of their originality and the training gains at every level that are absolutely certain.

Thank you for the clarity of your comments. Do you know of any evidence of the benefits of boarding schools in rural areas and in sub-Saharan Africa? I can already see donors saying yes, that's all very well, but what evidence do you have of the cost-benefit of these boarding versus day school approaches? Are there other educational alternatives that would do just as well?

For pragmatic and effective proof, we have a number of statistical and historical data specific to the history of Niger. Virtually all of Niger's elite since the 1960s have come from boarding schools. There is a definite positive emulating effect of boarding schools on cohorts of young people. Throughout West Africa, boarding schools have been important social centres for the populations concerned.

The second pragmatic argument in their favour is the social and economic impact that boarding schools have on families, as they can be sure that their offspring will have enough to eat and be protected from the vagaries of social life, poverty, harassment and the social violence endemic to poor societies. As you know, there are currently terrorist incursions into the country. There is insecurity, particularly in the West, North-East and extreme South-East. Boarding schools therefore give people a form of assurance that their daughters will be protected, free from need, in a safe place, so they will have less anxiety. Boarding school pupils are certainly more productive and more civic-minded in the truest sense of the word, in that they are more integrated and think more disengagedly about the personal and individual problems they are likely to encounter. And that's a not insignificant element in the positive and concrete effects, what we might call the socio-political effects, of living together in boarding schools.

The third point, which I should have put first, concerns the assessments of pupils' results. We recently had the results of the first and second cycles of end-of-year exams, which are not very brilliant at national level. They vary between 30% and 35% depending on the region. Now, it's clear that when you live in a closed circuit, boarding school environment, you can do what we call, in teaching terms, mock exams or "collles" on Saturday mornings. We can also adapt curricula, timetables, remedial measures, subject support and reinforcement, and tutorials to suit the profile of pupils in difficulty, and we have more time to devote to the profiles and needs of the pupils.

So the assessment results, by which I mean exam results, are much more positive in closed sectors than in open or semi-open schools. Firstly, because teachers in closed environments can follow the teaching and learning of their pupils much more easily, in a kind of pedagogical continuity. And secondly, because we're more on a just-in-time basis, so we react immediately to a bad mark, to a problem with the pupil, with the class. Because when they're at home, pupils are distracted by activities, by problems, by fetching wood, by working, by being solicited by the socius... In short, they're immersed in the world of the classroom. In short, they are immersed in a type of problem that distracts them from their job as a student. Because that's the aim: to ensure that a period in a child's life is devoted solely to acquiring skills and learning. This is a long way off in sub-Saharan countries and in Africa in general. But that's the aim: to raise the level of education, to keep pupils in school, at collège and lycée, and to work on developing the resources or human capital - even if I don't like these clumsy expressions used by economists who don't take the human factor into account in their 'scientific' analyses - that is necessary and useful for the socio-economic development of Niger. The qualitative evidence is reported on improvements in the school climate and reinforces the results, which can then be assessed by means of informed quantitative evaluations.

And then there is another type of fact that argues in favour of boarding schools that I think is important to mention, especially at this very disruptive time when social networks are tending to divide societies, and not just in developing societies but in every society in the world. The fact that there is, in a way, a little less leisure Internet, a little less social networking, a little less virtual applications in boarding schools and the obligation for pupils to have to discuss things with each other, to have to physically confront each other face-to-face, even sometimes, to argue, to bicker, in short, to have social and emotional problems that are the problems of their age and not virtual problems that come from elsewhere, ideological problems linked to the insertion of a socio-economic world into their emotional universe, the fact of talking to each other, recognising each other, experiencing each other in the flesh, will give them a definite civic dimension. . We are therefore more than enthusiastic and positive in more ways than one about the social, educational, psycho-affective and didactic benefits of boarding schools. The children are developing in a healthy environment, with issues and rhythms of life that are their own, and not with issues that come from Tik Tok, Instagram or who knows what other derealising, time-consuming and attention-destroying virtual universe. So now we have concrete proof.

It's clear to see: when pupils arrive from the countryside and continue their schooling in town, they feel that the rural calm and social protection work in their favour, being more in line with the values of respect, politeness and citizenship. I have the example of the cohorts of pupils I observe in Niamey. Initially, they are a little less accustomed to urban customs, but they are a little more moral than city children. They have traditional values from the countryside, from their families, and they are a little less prone to entertainment and easy consumption. It has to be said, though, because it's something we don't talk about enough: there are traditional values in Africa that are very positive. In particular, respect for authority plays a part in the relationship with education, because respecting elders makes it easier to respect adults such as teachers. And one of the difficulties that pupils have in the city or in semi-open spaces is that the authority of teachers is often undermined by the somewhat lost youth of the cities, in search of identity and emotional recognition. In a traditional setting, the teacher is also the eldest and the symbolic representative of seniority, so he or she is respected. This too is a guarantee of the absence of delinquency, civic values and a positive school climate.

Do you know of any other boarding school models in other countries similar to Niger? Have you been able to visit any?

I've visited a few in South Korea, Germany, Algeria and Nigeria. I'm going to visit some in the Caribbean countries, which have similar socio-historical profiles to Niger. I've visited a few in southern countries like Benin and Togo. There are definite advantages in educational comparatism, but there are also peculiarities and particularities that cannot be reproduced or transferred.

For example, in the countries on the coast of West Africa, we are much more Catholic or Protestant than Muslim, and the boarding school is part of an ecclesial or evangelical community culture. I'm not saying this in a pejorative way, but these school values also come from the specific history often linked to the historical and cultural past of colonisation, in the sense that it was a question of creating a community, teaching the religions of the colonists, teaching collective practices bearing the values of the colonial world. There are common and community values in West Africa. This is not to deny it. Let's just remember that the past determines the present, and this is true in Niger as it is everywhere else. Take, for example, the teaching of religion in schools in Europe and the teaching of secularism in West Africa: we are faced with the same concern to awaken critical thinking and educate people to tolerance, a word that I never use because it could appear ambiguous, due to its questionable relativism.

The aim remains to preserve social peace and put all dogmatism and religious irredentism at bay. The President of Niger is convinced of this, and I am too. That's why he appointed me to this level of responsibility. And as long as there is no independent critical judgement on the part of citizens, pupils and families, we will always have to deal with obtuse, fanatic individuals who have imaginary identities and who will easily veer towards dangerous dogmatism. And so, as in the other countries of the sub-region, there is always a religious ideological underpinning as the basis of moral and cultural reference: this basis is either Muslim or Catholic, or Protestant, and is either authentic or the result of Arab, English, French, Portuguese, German colonisation, etc., but it has been hybridised, mixed, blended, even blurred, in the original and primary cultures. African life is inconceivable without its specific wisdom, without taking into account the essential role of community life; it is a life of religious as well as social and philosophical values.

The experiment we are trying in Niger is not to form a community of religion, but to form a community of citizenship. And that's very important to clarify in order to avoid political ambiguities. It may not have been emphasised enough, but this notion of citizenship is fundamental, firstly for human capital, and secondly for our future. We need citizens who can tell the difference between fake news and referenced information. And you and I both know very well that independent judgement is the key to restraining and containing fatal and deadly passions, so that we don't lapse into superstitious and dogmatic emotional and pathological adherence.

So the models I've seen here and there are not directly transposable. There really is an original experiment going on in Niger, which is why it needs to be monitored and supported. It also means that the adults who will have to work in these boarding schools will have to be recruited practically on the basis of their profile, with interviews on their relationship to the child, their relationship to teaching and their relationship to skills. So, to answer your question precisely, there are elements that can be transposed. These include good equipment, safety, administrative organisation, educational governance and the organisation of curricula. There are others that are a little less so. What specific profile of Nigeriens can be found in Senegalese, Burkinabe, Malians and Chadians? Because there are resemblances and similarities, but they are always accompanied by small, important differences. The devil is in the detail. These small differences are significant if we want to make fine pedagogy and have good practices in the field.

What obstacles do you see in setting up this pilot project? The Minister spoke of an initial pilot boarding school in Kellé. Are you aware of the results of this pilot boarding school so far? What obstacles can be anticipated in setting up this major project?

You're right to ask this question because you may have the impression that I'm engaging in an extremely positive eulogy and a certain hagiographic form of naive proselytism. So thank you for the question. You are right to mention the obstacles, but you should know that we are not ignoring them. The first barrier, as I said just now when I was talking about profile-based recruitment, is the skills of the adults. They have to be irreproachable from an ethical point of view, irreproachable in terms of their skills. That doesn't mean they have to be geniuses. But be careful! This is an experiment, and everyone has the right to make mistakes, including adults. But it does mean, for example, that you have to learn to work as part of a team, learn to accept criticism without taking offence, learn to respect others. I can assure you that this is not easy: I'm in charge of an education unit at the Presidency, and it's not at all easy to get people to work as part of a team. For many managers, it's not a matter of course. You have to be very tactful not to offend anyone. So these are the first barriers of an organisational nature (world of work and governance or management) which are linked to factors of a cultural anthropology, not to say a psychological typology. This is a very important point to bear in mind: the people and cultures we have to work with are not insignificant, and neither are the motivations of the staff.

The second barrier, and there's no reason not to say it, is that we need to be very careful about monitoring funds to prevent misappropriation of food, equipment, books, donated money and so on. I think this is important and it's endemic throughout Africa. I don't want to be too harsh, but let's just say that there has to be diligent, attentive, ethical, accounting and management monitoring. And you can understand why I was insisting earlier on the ethical nature of governance, because the objective is not to provide day care or to retain young girls, but to train minds and bodies and to transform the social and economic life of Niger through education. In this respect, the aims must be clear; in other words, what we might call good governance, good conduct in and on the ground, both presuppose well-defined profiles of axiological and technical skills. I won't insist on this, because it goes without saying that we teach what we are before we teach what we know.

As for the third obstructive element, it concerns the donors, because we don't want them to leave us in the lurch. In general, we have a big problem with donors in terms of the slowness of their disbursements and the blocking of funds, which is often linked to the technical difficulty of the financial files that Nigerien administrators have to fill in. So the TFPs will have to do something about this cumbersome bureaucratic machinery, because it's a persistent problem. I'm telling you this with full knowledge of the facts, and I'm speaking on behalf of all the practitioners and field workers. The procedures are too long, the files are too hard to fill in. There needs to be a little more facility, a little more flexibility, a little more plasticity, a little more neo-liberalism in disbursement practices. But that doesn't mean we should be cavalier and not look at the details of how things are done! But there's no reason why this large, very bureaucratic, very cumbersome administrative part should prevent things from moving forward and block the implementation of Niger's education policy.

There are realities on the ground which mean that, given the particularities of Niger and the specific profile of the pupils, we need fungibles, notebooks, blackboards, reams of paper, pens and things like that quickly for everyday work in the classroom. And if you have to wait six or seven months before you can work because you don't have the resources, I can tell you straight out as an education specialist that this is more than damaging for some children, because within a month you're missing out on their stages of development, you're setting them back and making it impossible for them to progress and learn. As you know, you certainly have children, and there is a continuous application of monitoring and evaluation. If there isn't the right teaching aid at a given moment, if there isn't a legible blackboard, there's no energy in the motivation to learn. If there isn't a fan running to cool things down in the heat of the year, you can be sure that there aren't enough amino acids in the brain, that there isn't enough magnesium, and that the pupils will drop out because they fall asleep. The material issue can be greater than the best will in the world and obliterate all initial learning.

Absolutely, and the challenges of vacuum and confinement have really demonstrated the importance of all these factors to children's learning.

I'd like to add, if you don't mind, just to conclude, that we need to involve the traditional and religious chiefs, the farmers and the families themselves so that they fully understand the educational project of the girls' boarding schools, so that they don't create obstacles, roadblocks or even break with this innovative schooling project. We also need to show them that there is no fundamental contradiction between the practice of Islam or any other religion and education in a closed environment. And that's not easy to get across to families, religious and customary authorities.

For us, this is clear, but you can go to a village and the rains don't arrive, there are food shortages and the State is often far removed from the daily concerns of the villagers, the roads are far away, and you hear fine promises that are not kept, You see the big gleaming cars and the well-fed white people from projects and NGOs arriving in the villages all smiles and leaving even more smiles, and you're still in trouble with the well that's silted up, the crops that aren't being harvested, the damaged or missing roads, the lack of energy and water infrastructures, etc. You see what I mean? Do you see what I mean? There is a contract of trust to be established and I think that in this case, the donors are just as responsible, they are co-responsible. We are in a situation of indefinite development aid. We are in a practice of permanent and continuous construction, and that is why the terms of the contract of trust are important.

Absolutely! I think the social contract, the contract of trust as you say, and co-construction is absolutely important. And here, focusing on the demand for such a project, the demand from families, communities and their supporters, how would you get them on board? How would you talk to a family? What barriers can you anticipate so that they participate not only in sending their daughters, but also from a financial point of view, because it all costs?

Firstly, we need men and women who can act as agents of synergy, as relays between the players in the school system, as vectors of permanent and continuous liaison between the villages, traditional chiefs, etc. and the school. This means that we're going to have to create - and I'm weighing my words carefully here - a new type of post which is the equivalent of a secretary, a factotum, what used to be the general supervisor, whose job is to socialise, in other words to act as an interface between the inside and the outside world, i.e. civil society. That's a new profile, a new type of job, new skills and knowledge to be mobilised. It's an interesting challenge, by the way.

The second important thing is that we need to force all those involved in boarding schools, adults and pupils alike, to start communicating. Either in the form of a small newspaper, a blog, a website, or a simple sheet of paper, or over a glass of tea, a printed framework where a pupil once a week or once a fortnight, once a month, once every three months, goes out into the villages with an adult, and explains what he or she is doing in class, what the pupils in the boarding school have been doing as educational activities, the difficulties that the boarders are encountering in their life as pupils. In short, we need to involve the traditional community and the people collectively, on the model of cooperation, of a cooperative, in the manner of the pedagogue Piaget or by applying the active teaching methods of the 60s and 70s, without falling into idealistic and utopian delirium.

So it's a way of experiencing the school institution that engages in dialogue and turns towards a community where the school is not seen as a stranger to the village and conversely the village is not seen as a stranger to the school. That's why we need to work on a project basis. What do we do in a village? What kind of tools do they use? What kind of language do we speak? The pupils will reflect on this and, conversely, it will often lead the village to ask itself: what do we do in a school? What are we proposing to work on? So the village becomes a school for the school and the school becomes a school for the village.

And then the last point again, there has to be participation, not necessarily financial or material, from all the players in the system in place. It can be anything from cleaning up the courtyard to telling a story or helping young girls with their sexual health problems. We need to list a number of things that farmers and villagers know how to do and not ask them to do things they can't do. We can't ask them to make a financial contribution, to pay a fee, if the project itself is attracting aid from donors, etc. We have to make a list of the things the farmers and villagers can do, and not ask them to do things they can't do.

So we have to be logical, it should only be symbolic, contractual and therefore within the realms of possibility. This means that the logic of the boarding school stems from a demand for balance, and that's what fairness is all about: everyone contributes what they can according to who they are and what they have. You can't ask for the same level of contribution from all the villages, because they don't all have the same resources. Participation will have to be based on their budget, which is scarce in Niger. So we need something along the lines of distributive justice.

Absolutely, and that seems to depend on this first profile that absolutely has to be created. How would you recruit this person? Because he or she seems to be the key agent to get things moving and to act as an interface.

We have a lot of inspectors who, in my opinion, are unemployed, we have a lot of educational advisers who, in my opinion, are unemployed, we have a lot of teachers who are in the ministries and who are no longer in front of pupils. This is not a criticism, but they need to be taken back and put into the field. We need to redefine the role of a pedagogical advisor. A teacher adviser is not someone who comes into a classroom and says "this is good, that is bad". They need to be put back in the classroom or between classes, so that they can support pupils, teachers, adults and families, and so on. We have the human resources, we can work with what we already have. It's not a question of creating a new profession. It's a new profession, but it's based on changes to old professions. The school needs to reform and those who work in the school need to reform just as much as the students.

The educational adviser must act as an interface between civil society and the school. They should not be school specialists. Their role is that of interface, mediator or facilitator. And I think we will have a lot to gain if we look at what is being done today in the faculties of education, the Ecole Nationale des Instituteurs (ENI), to redefine professions because there is a lot of loss and a lot of evaporation. The main principle is that if I'm in a class, if I pass a diploma, then I leave the class and take another diploma. I even leave teaching to become a commander or head of the structure. It makes no sense; it's an irrational and unproductive waste of human resources.

We need to change this system to change things. We need to "deverticise" educational relationships and school hierarchies in order to "horizontalise" governance and teaching practices. This does not mean taking away the responsibilities of inspectors and educational advisers, it does not mean taking away the sovereignty of managers, it does not mean taking away the governance of administrators or academic managers. It means that a pedagogical advisor is not there to twiddle his thumbs. Because he's a pedagogical advisor, he has to produce documents, he has to go and see what's being done in the classroom and with the village chiefs or farmers. He has to do this because he is a reflective observer and a reflective third party, and it is he who must act as the interface between civil society and the school, firstly because he has the skills and the time to do so, and secondly because he will be paid to do so and will be trained to acquire the appropriate skills.

So it's not a question of producing a new budget line. It's about redefining over time a repertoire of skills and references that have been validated according to the objectives and logic of these boarding schools. So it's really an innovative project, a very interesting project, and I think we need people who are committed, who have an ethic and a historical concern that's both political in the technical sense of the term and ideological, people who see the role of these structures in influencing society, people who think of educational changes in the fabric of Niger as actions to change minds and consciences so that Niger emerges from its poverty and its socio-economic state.

Before we finish, do you have any other key points you'd like to share with us?

Yes, there are two key points I'd like to emphasise. Firstly, I think that teacher training needs to be made less hermetic. It's not acceptable for training to be so non-transparent and for curricula to be the stuff of rocket science. What is done in a teacher training college is mysterious and that's not normal. We should have access to the curriculum, see which psychologists the students are studying, what methods they're using, how they're trained, and so on. I think that's important. Transparency in learning reassures everyone. It's a teaching contract between trainers and civil society.

Secondly, and this is redundant, I would like to stress that we need to redefine the role of educational advisers and inspectors. They are not there to be general overseers of the application of decrees, orders and reforms. They are there to help teachers work better and cope better with their professional difficulties, and they are mandated to help families ensure that they are co-educators with teachers. They are also there to help civil society raise the skill level of citizens. So we need to redefine these missions and put these bodies of civil servants from the Ministry of Education into action and force them to adopt active teaching practices and not simply be further metastases of the bureaucracy which lives only by texts, seminars, commissions, recommendations, etc., etc., which tire us out and give us paper indigestion.

It's time for the technocrats to get down to the nitty-gritty of school life and stop feeding their theoretical reflections, which are all too often cut off from the reality of the classroom and the real lives of pupils.

Interview on 4 August 2022 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Niger

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