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Overcoming the Barrier of English Proficiency: View from Francophone Africa

HALI Speaks Out

The number of Togolese students applying to access higher education outside Togo has considerably increased in the past five years. These students desire educational opportunities to help them attain their goals. Whereas previously most looked to France, increasingly Togalese HALI students strive to access higher education in the USA, Canada, the UK, and countries in Asia.

What motivates these Togolese students? The courses they want to study. The well-stocked libraries. The comprehensive curriculum. The internships. The research opportunities. The highly qualified faculty. 

Like any applicant from a Francophone country, Togolese students are required to demonstrate their English proficiency through tests such as the TOEFL and IELTS which prove to be big hurdles for them. 

First, it is difficult to obtain a high score on any of these tests without serious training. Unfortunately, there are few if any training centers for these tests and all are located only in the capital city, and available at the highest cost. Even if these HALI students have the academic readiness to take these courses, they cannot not afford the price of the training.

Second, the high cost of the TOEFL and IELTS tests is an insurmountable barrier for HALI students in Togo. Though talented, with a good record of leadership and academic skills, these students are crushed by the cost of the tests which hinders their access to the world of higher education. The cost of the TOEFL and IELTS resources doesn’t allow for each student to have their own books and materials; they have to share them which means they have less control over when and how intensively they can prepare for the tests.

Furthermore, seeing that the testing centers are located only in the capital, any student wishing to take these tests needs to travel to Lomé. My Edulcod Togo students, who had their tests paid by well-wishers and Opportunity Funds from EducationUSA, had to travel eight hours by bus to the capital and miss several days of classes to take the TOEFL. Some had no acquaintances in the capital, leaving them to struggle to find accommodations and a way to feed themselves.

Last year, I had to travel with one of my kids to the neighboring country, Ghana, for him to take his TOEFL test. It took us 12 hours by bus and we had to return the day following the test for the exhausted student to resume classes during the year of his national exams.

Duolingo is offering one solution for my HALI students. Jennifer Dewar from Duolingo attended the HALI Indaba in Kenya this April.  Hearing from her about the possibility of taking the Duolingo language test at one’s own location on a date and at a time that works for the student, getting the test results in two days, and benefitting from the possibility of waiving fees for HALI students was like opening the doors of a golden house to students for the first time!

After attending webinars about Duolingo tests, I’ve realized that Duolingo offers equal access to higher education for HALI students from around the world. I am convinced that many institutions will quickly integrate this test in their requirements as an alternative test in order to help HALI students realize their dreams. Our students are excited to have this opportunity to prove their English proficiency in a way they can access and afford.


This blog post has been written by Arsene Mabadjam Katawa, the Founder and Director HALI member organization Edulcod Togo. All views are his own.

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