FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

Paterns, practices and culture in French speaking West African schools – MOPRACS

Models, practices and cultures of school institutions in francophone West Africa

Based on case studies from Senegal and Benin, the project aimed to deepen our understanding of the changing patterns of educational models, practices and cultures in West Africa, at a time when these are being fundamentally reconfigured. Private and religious schools are proliferating on the continent and the “national” character of educational systems is increasingly questioned in a context of numerous international interventions.

Doing school in Africa: Studying the co-production of schooling

This project aimed to analyse the negotiations and transactions of and between the various actors at all levels of the educational spectrum (international experts, administrators, teachers, beneficiaries). It investigated how their ordinary and symbolic practices serve to (re)produce the school along with the fabric of the state itself. This approach reveals that the reality of schooling in West African countries is far from being as homogeneous and simple as different international educational policies would assume. It demonstrates the necessity to identify the factors and variables that explain the diversity of educational situations and practices.<br />Therefore, the first level of analysis of the MOPRACS project concerned the international dimension of education policies, the specific forms of school governance that they produce, and the ways they are negotiated by actors at national level. The second level focused on the various forms of schooling provided for children - boys and girls. It examined their everyday functioning, social organisation and, ultimately, different actors’ perceptions and experiences, as well as the meanings and values conveyed by the school.<br />

One of the project’s objectives was to situate the study of the school within the broader field of research in social anthropology and political science on the transformation of the state and public action in Africa. Studies were conducted in a comparative vein in Benin and Senegal in order to illuminate the factors and variables which enable us to explain the diversity of the observed educational situations and practices.
The researchers analysed different aspects of the educational spectrum, and situated their observations in specific local and historical contexts, to develop a nuanced understanding of the school in Africa which bridged micro and macro levels. Findings demonstrated that, despite apparently homogenous educational models circulating at global level, actors, responsible for implementing these models, are inserted into local networks and are driven by individual strategies largely determined by the social and political space in which they operate. Results from this empirical and multilevel analysis supported one of the project’s main hypotheses, namely, that schools and educational institutions are produced by various actors at different levels, both in their design and in their implementation. Models and practices migrate and are reproduced, resisted and transformed.

Several important insights emerged from the project. First, education systems are multiple and diverse. The school is the product of political practices and imaginaries, which are not universal, but, on the contrary, rooted in locally and historically specific contexts. Second, the research highlighted the diversity of actors (public and private, formal or non-formal) involved in the construction and production of educational systems. Finally, the studies have shown that an analysis of educational practices and curricula is needed in combination with a study of the administrative and political realities to capture the everyday production of the institution.

Besides its scientific interest for practitioners working on education, the project also aimed at promoting the work of young women academics, and at enforcing partnerships with African universities and researchers (University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and Lasdel in Benin) but also between the universities of Mayence and Bordeaux.

The project’s scientific outputs were the organisation of panels, seminars and conference presentations at national and international conferences; the coordination of special issues, the publication of articles in relevant academic journals, and creation of documentary films. Members of the project organised an international conference in February 2015. A collective book is under way due for completion in 2017.
The project, coordinated by Hélène Charton and Sarah Fichtner, provided an essential and relevant contribution to social science research on models, practices and cultures of schooling in contemporary Africa. The project started in April 2012 and ended in December 2015. It received € 215,000 of funding from the ANR.

Based on case studies in Senegal, Mali and Benin, this study aims to deepen our understanding of the changing patterns of educational models, practices and cultures in francophone West Africa. Private and religious schools are proliferating on the continent and the “national” character of educational systems is increasingly questioned by numerous international interventions carried out in the context of the Millennium Development Goals. Educational norms and standards in Africa are increasingly defined in globalized arenas. However, the research project proposed by Sarah Fichtner, in cooperation with Hélène Charton and three other researchers, seeks to show that education policies in the three countries under study result from the complex interactions between school institutions, the State, societal and international actors. They are the product of actors’ hybrid and creative practices. The project focuses on all the actors engaged in the field of education (international experts, teachers, agents, beneficiaries) and their ordinary, discursive and symbolic practices. It deals with the different school cultures, the institutionalisation of education norms and the processes of state formation that are generated by these mundane and concrete actions.
Its multidisciplinary analytical framework combines approaches from the sociology and socio-anthropology of education, of development and of the State in Africa. It is based on a strong collaboration between the Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and the research center “les Afriques dans le monde” at the University of Bordeaux. These two institutions have played leading roles in the production of important and in-depth knowledge about the State and education in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past years. In addition to its scientific value and its potential implications for policy-makers, the project intends to promote young female researchers, capacity-building and training for students and lasting partnerships with African universities and researchers.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 215,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2011 - 36 Months

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