At 47 years old, Moussa Konaré loves working in his fields. Farming is his main source of income, and how he provides for his large family in Bourakébougou, Mali.
But Moussa has a new interest as well: promoting the education of his children and his community.
Two to three times a week, Moussa abandons his crops in order to walk his children to school. During the walk, he asks them about their classes and what they are learning. He also tells them about gifts that he can offer them if they do well throughout the school year. Once they arrive at school, Moussa talks with his children’s teacher about how he can support their learning at home.
But it’s at the end of the day that his work as a parent educator really picks up. When his children return from school, he reviews their work. Afterwards, Moussa hosts informal reading and writing sessions at his home for children in the village. More than a dozen learners usually attend. They sit on little stools in his courtyard, reading and writing.
“While before, I paid little attention to my children’s education, I realized that it is necessary to help children from an early age to get a taste for learning,” says Moussa. “Even if I have to go to the field, if I see that the children are not in the mood to go to school, I accompany them and I tell them funny stories along the way to destress and motivate them more.”
Moussa credits the USAID Selective Integrated Reading Activity for helping him build this awareness about the importance of early literacy and active parental involvement.
Launched in 2016, the USAID activity supports students in grades 1 and 2 to improve reading and writing in Bamanankan, the national language spoken by most people in Mali. Children in 3,682 public and community schools in the Koulikoro, Sikasso, Ségou regions and the district of Bamako participate. And, through its community participation component, the project aims to strengthen the involvement of parents, communities, and private sector partners.
Before the USAID Selective Integrated Reading Activity, Moussa says he did not think much about his children’s school life at all. He — like many other parents in Mali — believed that his children’s education happened entirely inside the school’s walls. But that attitude changed in 2018.
“The project came to train us and to explain our role in the school monitoring of our children,” he says. “The booklet we were given after the training enables each parent to play their role effectively at home, even if they are illiterate.”
Children Study Everywhere
Bourakébougou Public School Teacher Dounou Konaré attests to the importance of what Moussa is doing with the children.
“He reviews what we have done in class and previews what we are going to do,” says Dounou. “It makes my job a lot easier because my students are able to follow, understand, and master my classes.”
Dounou says that before the USAID activity, children struggled to learn because instruction was in French — a language that he, and many other teachers, had not mastered. But now that the language of learning is Bamanankan, parents, teachers, and principals can all participate in learning.
Moussa is able to reinforce school lessons at home because of booklets, called Mansa Cesirijala in Bamanankan. Provided to every parent, they contain simple lessons that parents can do at home with their children. These lessons help reinforce literacy concepts taught in school, while also building a culture of reading.
“With the USAID/Mali SIRA guidelines, children study everywhere, especially with the Mansa Cesirijala booklet,” says Mountaga Konaré, president of the School Management Committee. “You see that the child is learning something in and out of school. Before, as parents, we only watched our children go to school with their bags and come back. That was it.”
Issa Konaré, a deputy mayor, has also seen a change. “The project is a good partner,” he says. “It trains teachers to teach more effectively at school and parents to monitor learning at home. The child always wins.”
Issa also singles out Moussa for special recognition. “Everyone has to play his part so that students can meet expectations,” he says. “Every day, Moussa walks the walk.”
A Community Leader
At home, Tata Coulibaly, who is Moussa’s wife, is also a partner in the effort. Tata prepares for learners to arrive by sweeping the courtyard and setting out little stools.
“I like to come and learn with uncle Moussa,” says Drissa Konaré, a grade 2 student. “He explains things to me well and never gets angry with me. Every time I come to study with him, I am reassured to go to school the next day.”
In leading these informal literacy sessions, Moussa has become a community leader, too. Parents trust him to support their children’s education. His courtyard has become a vibrant space for learning, and the community is grateful.
“I often bring my children to Moussa and sometimes I even attend his tutoring sessions,” says Birama Konaré, a father of two daughters. “Thanks to the SIRA technique of working with the family-school link booklets, parents and grandparents alike learn with children. The whole family can monitor them because Bamanankan is our national language. Students master the lessons well and spend the whole day singing about what they have done.”
But perhaps the happiest person is Moussa Konaré, who had to drop out of school in his youth. His efforts will impact these children’s lives for years to come.
“I’m very happy to see all these little ones gathered at my house, learning,” he says. “When the child masters reading and writing, learning is guaranteed for him because he has a very good basis for his schooling and his future.”
By The Numbers: USAID Selective Integrated Reading Activity has reached 264,169 learners, trained 7,239 teachers, and offered coaching to 3,986 school directors.
About the Author
Aissata Cheick Sylla Doucouré is a Communication Officer with SIRA, a project at USAID’s Mission in Mali.