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Official Country Name: Republic of Burundi
Region: Africa
Population: 6,054,714
Language(s): Kirundi, French, Swahili
Literacy Rate: 35.3%

The country of Burundi continues to go through fundamental changes that affect, like all its institutions, the educational system. Early in the twentieth century, what is now Burundi was part of Belgium's colony of Ruanda-Urundi (which also included what came to be known as Rwanda). From 1908 until 1948, many of the schools were operated by churches. These were mostly primary schools with some middle schools. The Catholic missions were given an official status and government funding. Protestant schools were also permitted and recognized, but they did not receive government funds. Some of this changed when the Belgium government created a new plan, the "Organization of Free Subsidized Instruction for the Indigenous with the Assistance of Christian Missionary Societies," which promoted greater diversity in curriculum and the establishment of more secondary schools. This set the foundation for education when Burundi became independent in 1962.

Since that time Burundi suffered through tribal wars, between the Hutu and Tutsi, that also involved neighboring Rwanda. At least 250,000 people are believed to have died in Burundi between 1993 and 1999. Besides the citizens' loss of life and, for many, their livelihoods, the country is also dealing with many refugees who are moving back and forth between other counties such as Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The governmental infrastructure has been strained.

With a population estimated in 2000 at 6,054,714 people, the nation has been receiving some international assistance for humanitarian and educational programs from organizations like the United Nations. The need for a primary and secondary education system is substantial since 17 percent of the population was 14-years-old or younger (2000 estimate). The national literacy rate (those at least 15 years old who are able to read and write) is 35.3 percent, one of the lowest in the world. To break the figures down further, 49.3 percent of males and 22.5 percent of females were categorized as literate, according to a 1995 estimate. Kirundi and French are the country's official languages, and Swahili is also used is some of the districts.

Education is free in the country and taught mainly in Kirundi. Primary education, which is compulsory, begins at age seven and lasts for six years. Secondary education, which is not mandatory, consists of two programs, one of four years and another of three years. The University of Burundi, which uses French as a primary language, is located in the capital city of Bujumbura and is the country's only major university. The minority Tutsi students are often accused by the Hutu of having a disproportionate percentage of the enrollment in both the secondary and university levels. This is seen by some as an impediment to the Hutu majority assuming greater upward mobility in government and business.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http://www.cia.gov/.

—Michael W. Young

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