Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, is one of the world’s poorest countries. Almost two-thirds of the population is illiterate. For many years, the Stern Stewart Institute has been promoting economic independence in the region through different projects. A key aspect of this strategy is increasing the number of educational opportunities.
It’s still early in the morning when Susanne Pertl first looks at her smartphone. There’s a new message from the Co-Principal of her school. A few decisions still need to be made: Who will receive a scholarship for the next school year? What books should be purchased for the library? Where are there networking opportunities to give students an additional leg up? Susanne Pertl, who lives with her husband and three children in Munich, is a school principal. At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about these questions. Yet there’s something that sets her apart from other school administrators. Lycée Schorge, which she has led since its opening in 2015, is located in Koudougou in Burkina Faso. More than 4,000 kilometers lie between her and the school.
A non-conventional setup
Pertl, who holds a degree in business administration, became a school principal through her work as a Board Member of the Stern Stewart Institute. The non-profit organization encourages economic independence in West Africa and assists people with a range of different needs. “We teach them the basics like how to read and write, or how to plant their own garden,” explains Pertl. At the same time, these efforts are primarily aimed at empowering future generations of young managers and employees, thereby driving the sustainable development of the local economy.
Lycée Schorge in Koudougou, which opened in September 2015, is already the eighth school in Burkina Faso supported by the Stern Stewart Institute and is run directly by the organization. Pertl invested a lot of time, sweat and tears in the lead-up to the school’s opening. “With Francis Kéré, we were able to get a world-class architect for the project,” says Pertl. Born in Burkina Faso, Kéré is famous for his socially and ecologically sustainable architectural projects in developing countries. With the opening of Lycée Schorge, Pertl and Co-Principal Baslayi Tindano set lofty goals for themselves: “We want to become the best school in Burkina Faso,” says Pertl. “Education should give our graduates better opportunities for a bright future. This way, young people can improve living conditions and implement far-reaching changes – not only for themselves and their families, but also for society and the country as a whole.”
As one of the world’s poorest countries, the educational situation in Burkina Faso poses a major challenge. The schools are in a poor state of repair, which results in educational deficiencies and an extremely low literacy rate. Almost two-thirds of the population cannot read. While 87 percent of all children go to elementary school, one-third of these leave school prematurely. Only 30 percent of the children with an elementary school certificate continue their education, and only five percent of students with a high school diploma enroll in university.
A better future through education
With Lycée Schorge, Pertl and her colleagues want to advance education in Burkina Faso. Literacy courses, a library open on weekends and soccer tournaments make the school a meeting place for everyone. Regular computer courses have been integrated into the curriculum. Currently, 280 students between the ages of 12 and 21 are enrolled at the school. After completing tenth grade, students can receive the equivalent of a high school diploma, while those that continue through grade 13 are qualified to study at a university. Classes have no more than 40 students. “In normal schools, there can be up to 100 students in a class,” says Pertl. Half of the students receive a scholarship, which they have to apply for.
The first successes are already visible. “This year marked the first time we had students taking the high school leaving exam, and the scores far exceeded the average for the country,” says Pertl, who is delighted at the result. Particular attention is paid to supporting girls. “Our goal is for the portion of girls at the school to be at least 50 percent,” says Pertl. A total of 280 students should have the chance for a better future thanks to Lycée Schorge. “Together with the teachers, we encourage all students to follow their dreams, and we support them on this journey,” says Pertl.
ZEISS microscopes open up new horizons
Pertl generally makes the strategic and organizational decisions from her home in Munich. However, twice a year she’s on site for an entire week. On her last trip, she packed something very special in her luggage – two ZEISS microscopes. The ZEISS Stemi 305 microscopes donated by the company to Lycée Schorge are used in biology class. “The students were in awe of the microscopes the first time they saw them in the classroom,” reports Pertl. And the biology teacher, who had worked with microscopes during his university studies, was over the moon. “He never imagined that he would have access to these instruments for teaching,” says Pertl. And even the students were amazed when they looked through the microscope for the first time, discovering plant cells and other structures not visible to the naked eye. With support from ZEISS, students also received eye exams and, if needed, a pair of glasses.
“Education has opened up new horizons for these students. They’ve now seen a different world that offers them exciting opportunities,” says Pertl. So it’s fitting that Susanne Pertl and the Stern Stewart Institute’s team opened a university on the same campus in October 2018. In six semester, the students at the Burkina Institute of Technology receive a comprehensive education in the fields of computer science, leadership and entrepreneurship. In the first year, 35 young people are studying to earn their bachelor of science.