International Day of the Girl Child is 11 October. This year’s Day focuses on innovating for girls’ education. Smart and creative use of technology, policies, partnerships and, most of all, the engagement of young people, themselves, are important for overcoming barriers to girls’ learning and achievement.
The child-friendly and girl-friendly schools programme in the Niger is mobilizing mothers who never had the opportunity to complete school to ensure their daughters get an education.
MARADI, Niger, 16 October 2013 – There are more girls than boys at Saran Maradi primary school. But, in this part of southern Niger, cultural pressure against girls’ education remains strong. Nearly 36 per cent of girls are married before the age of 15.
UNICEF is promoting a child-friendly and girl-friendly approach in 1,000 schools in the country, including in Saran Maradi. The objective is to provide children with the minimum conditions of study and to encourage girls’ enrolment. The programme has seen success – there is near gender parity in the schools in which this approach has been implemented.
‘A school where life is enjoyable’
So far, 7 per cent of the two million schoolchildren in the Niger are enrolled in child-friendly schools.
Maman Boukar Kollimi, Regional Director of Education in Maradi, explains what a child-friendly school entails. “A child-friendly school is a school where life is enjoyable. It is a school where the basic needs are met, including shade trees, latrines, water points, classrooms with enough benches and tables, well-trained teachers. It is a learning environment where the community is involved in everything we do.”
Equality between girls and boys is encouraged in the classrooms – and in the school yard. Teachers are trained to provide children with a safe and gender-sensitive environment. They use teaching methods that prevent gender bias, for example, and they keep girls and boys together in lines and school activities.
Community participation key
In Saran Maradi, all of the mothers have enrolled their daughters in school, although few of them had a similar chance. They take their role seriously. “In the morning, we wash them, get them dressed and send them to school. In the evening, we ensure that they study their lessons. It is important to follow up on their studies,” says Tsayba Laoualy, a mother from the remote rural village.
Community participation is, in fact, one of the key factors contributing to the success of the child-friendly/girl-friendly school approach. To ensure that the community contributes, Comité de Gestion des Etablissements Scolaires (COGES) – which comprises parents and school administration – oversees the overall management of schools.
“We provide safe drinking water in the school. We build grass-thatched classrooms,” explains Secretary General of Coges Illa Laoualy. In addition to enhancing the experience of attending school, COGES is tasked with ensuring school attendance: The committee makes home visits in the event that children are absent from school without established cause.
Much more to accomplish
In the Niger, schools offering minimum conditions of learning are few. Nearly one in two classrooms in primary schools is a thatched hut made of dry millet stalks and long grass. These classrooms are damaged by rain and wind and require frequent repairs. Few schools have running water. Four or five children will share a bench.
Saran Maradi primary school, like many other schools, still lacks safe drinking water. In addition, not all classrooms have been built with resilient materials. Each year, the straw hut classrooms will be ravaged by fire – a great discouragement for parents and children, alike.
The child-friendly school programme has been in place for five years. However, more funds are required in order for all needs to be covered. An area of particular concern is water and sanitation, including access to drinking water and separate latrines for girls and boys – essential services for children’s health and for the safety of girls.
The need to enhance education in the Niger is dire, considering the annual rate of population growth – 3.4 per cent, one of the highest in the world. Education is the key to development. UNICEF is calling on donors to mobilize more resources to continue its support in ensuring a safe and nurturing learning environment and helping all children – girls and boys – make the most out of their education.
Story by Nathalie Prévost