Learning to write with flipbooks in Burkina Faso

A Burkinabe living in Belgium has invented a way for children and adults to teach themselves to write. Photo courtesy of Alphatec/Roger Kaboré.
A Burkinabe living in Belgium has invented a way for children and adults to teach themselves to write. Photo courtesy of Alphatec/Roger Kaboré.

To help teachers in Burkina Faso teach their students to write, a Burkinabe has developed an innovative approach, involving little flipbooks whose pages show the mechanics of writing the letters of the alphabet. After putting the project on pause for several years, the man now hopes to start it up again, to help it to children and adults in Africa and beyond.

At the United Nations' last Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, the international community made it an objective to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education" for everyone. The UN made it a goal that by 2030 all children should know how to read, write and count by the time they leave school. According to UN numbers, the target is on its way to being reached, with the rate of primary school attendance in developing regions estimated at 91 percent in late 2015, up from 83 percent in 2000.

Roger Kaboré, a Burkinabe living in Belgium, wants to help this goal be achieved. He has designed a booklet that, as its pages are flipped in order, demonstrates the mechanics of how to write a letter or number (as can be seen in the video below). This flipbook, called Alphatec, essentially works like an animated film.

The approach may seem rather simplistic, but it's been tested in several schools in Burkina Faso and Belgium with positive results.

"Children really like it because it reminds them of cartoons!"

Roger Kaboré is a trainer and communications consultant for the Centre DEV Attitude in Belgium. He's behind the Alphatec project.

At the start of the project in 2010, I just made a few little videos with a free software programme to break down the mechanics of writing letters. It all started with an observation that I and some teacher friends had made: teachers were spending a lot of time, in addition to traditional writing lessons, helping the children learn how to write actual letters. But in Ouagadougou [the capital of Burkino Faso], classrooms are often very full, and it's very hard to ensure that each child gets the necessary attention.

The notion of a fun way for children to teach themselves, even outside of school, started running through my mind. I also saw it as a way to promote self-esteem in children.

We made our first prototypes with a few letters, and did a pilot project in a class of 36 children between the ages of six and eight in Ouagadougou. The kids would flip through a flipbook and then, immediately afterward, imitate what they'd just seen, with a pencil. Their enthusiasm made me smile. They really liked this method, because it reminded them of cartoons! So much so that some of the kids didn't want to give back the flipbooks!"

"I'd like to find partners to help make these flipbooks more widely available and do larger-scale tests"

Why has this project, which was developed six years ago, never gotten off the ground? Our Observer admits having some regrets:

I contacted several publishers and registered the copyrights, but the project never got off the ground. Publishers talked about logistical problems with printing the flipbooks. The project had nonetheless been of interest to groups of Belgian graphotherapists [Editor's note: Graphotherapists work with learning-disabled patients] who saw it as a useful approach for adult re-education. I'd even gotten requests from Brazil, but I couldn't fulfil them.

Right now, I'm looking for educational organisations, in Africa or Europe that might be interested in helping me go further, because I'm still convinced this concept could help children become more autonomous in their learning.

I'd really like to make these flipbooks available for just a modest sum so that they can be tested on a larger scale.

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