Arab-Islamic education (EDUAI) in the Sahel is still little known, although it is one of the essential elements to take into consideration in order to understand and govern the education systems of the region. This research project, entrusted to the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), aims to improve knowledge about this educational offer, its audiences and how it is taken into consideration by public policies, in order to inform the action of decision-makers in the Sahel region.

While significant progress in access to education has been observed since the 2000s in the Sahel, significant challenges remain in terms of access, quality of education and  reduction of inequalities (between girls and boys, between urban and rural areas, etc.).

In this context, many school-age children are supported by an educational offer backed by the Muslim religion, generally Arabic-speaking. Very rooted in many societies, this Arab-Islamic offer is multifaceted: it covers a continuum that goes from very informal family units and exclusively confessional contents, to formal institutions more or less integrated into the public offer, via intermediate forms, and evolutionary over time.


The purpose of this study is to contribute to the production of up-to-date and relevant knowledge on Arab-Islamic education in the Sahel. This complex phenomenon, deeply rooted and widespread in Sahelian societies, remains a blind spot for research and public policy. This project also aims to inform decision-makers in the Sahel countries and the various donors on this phenomenon, with a view to equipping them with the information necessary for the conduct of public policies.

Indeed, knowledge of Arab-Islamic education in its various forms is a prerequisite for any intervention, whether to regulate the practices deemed the most questionable, to promote the inclusion of EDUAI in education and vocational training policies, or to support a type of educational offer that may be particularly relevant in crisis situations (and in particular security crisis). 


A multidisciplinary and multi-national team coordinated by Dr Hamidou Dia (IRD) conducted the EDUAI project, which is the first major research on Arab-Islamic education in the six Sahelian countries.

This project was based on extensive inventories (inventory of research, grey literature, structures and institutions, quantitative data and press articles), as well as field surveys and interviews with the different categories of EDUAI actors. The results were debated during several research workshops and exchanges with stakeholders. It also allowed for the elaboration of the country reports and the synthesis, drafted according to a common framework in order to bring out the possible analogies, and even to identify phenomena of transnational or regional scope.


The study confirms the dynamism of Arab-Islamic education in the Sahel, shown in particular by the renewal of audiences. In Chad and Niger, more than 50% of students are girls, and the presence of the middle classes has increased. The re-emergence of Arab-Islamic universities in some countries (notably in Niger and Mali) also shows this dynamism.

The study highlights the diversity of EDUAI funding resources, which vary widely from country to country and from school to school. Depending on the context, the importance of resources coming from abroad gives a significant weight to foreign actors and dynamics in the evolution of EDUAI.

The study also shows that the positioning of this offer vis-à-vis the State varies according to the actors, schools of thought, forms of intervention and methods of financing. Depending on the type of educational offer, the place of residence or the profiles of the pupils, Arab-Islamic education can either be complementary to or a substitute for classical education, which is the case especially in regions where public services are destabilized.

You can find below the various research papers related to this research program:


This study confirms the existence of a plural and evolutionary educational offer, with the emergence, in recent decades, of new formats, sometimes pushing towards a modernization of education, sometimes towards a return to traditions, with tensions between EDUAI actors and/or important intra-national divisions around religious and linguistic issues.

The positioning of this offer vis-à-vis the State and the institutions varies. In some countries, attempts at reform by the State ended up in crystallizing tensions and confirmed the duality of the system. Nevertheless, the growth and dynamism of this educational offer in the region calls for a deeper exploration of the possibilities of establishing bridges with secular education.

Highlighting the diversity of this educational offer and the actors who carry it, this research project helped to understand better Arab-Islamic education and to guide the decision-making of AFD, its Sahelian partners or donors, at a time when EDUAI becomes for them a field of intervention in itself.

Project start date
Project end date
Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad
149 380
Financing amount