By Ismail Maiga and Cindy Cao
A teacher in northern Mali is fighting child labour by bringing children back into the classroom, even when it means going to the army barracks to find them.
TIMBUKTU, Mali, 3 September 2013 – Early on a Monday morning, a man wearing a turban and draped in a large robe runs a sharp eye over the classroom in the Accelerated Learning Gateway strategy centre in the district of Hamabangou, on the outskirts of Timbuktu.
He walks slowly, noting the names of children who are absent. He keeps a record of regular attendance. If children play truant, he won’t hesitate to go door-to-door and question their parents. Everyone knows him.
Among poor communities in Hamabangou, children who are not in school are often sent out to work to earn money. As the chairman of the centre’s management committee, Mohamed Alhousseyni Cissé aims to get children back in school and eliminate the practise of child labour.
“Even parents don’t have the right to interfere with the children’s learning,” he says.
Sometimes he even goes to the nearby military camp to bring back children who have gone off to the barracks.
“I want to see them all succeed,” he says. “The Accelerated Learning Gateway strategy is about getting justice for children from poor families.”
No time to lose
The centre represents a second chance for children who have fallen behind in the education system, with classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, six days a week. It is a lot of time, but necessary to get them to the right level to enter the formal school system.
“There’s no time to lose,” exclaims Mr. Cissé, brimming with energy. “Not only because of the age of the learners, but because of the pace they need to work at.”
Classes have between 25 and 30 pupils, small enough for high-quality learning. The course lasts for nine months and is designed to help children acquire basic skills through the use of local languages and an accelerated learning programme for French. The scheme is about promoting the right to education, with an emphasis on gender-related issues.
Since the project began, in 2008, over 550 children have been transferred from the gateway system to the grade level at which they would normally learn, with a success rate of nearly 80 per cent. Mr. Cissé smiles with pride at the result: “Our first pupils are already in the second stage of elementary learning. After a year of learning, our children can make up for the time they have lost and join year three or year four.”
In a region affected by poverty and conflict, educating children is a daily challenge. School canteens, teachers and school supplies are just some of the resources they lack here. As part of the Back to School campaign, UNICEF is helping to build capacity amongst teachers in all schools in the region. Over 37,000 school, teaching and recreation packs have been distributed in Timbuktu, and more are on the way. Development projects targeting young children are also underway.