By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 1 September 2011 – Shefena Gebre Egziabeher, 12, is in the sixth grade and excels at school. “Of all the subjects I take, my favourites are math and English. I like them because they are simple if you apply yourself,” she says.
Shefena lives in the remote Tigray region of Ethiopia. Her ambition is to become a teacher – a process that she has already put in motion.
For one hour a week, Shefena tutors a small class of younger friends and neighbours in the basics of reading and writing. It’s part of a UNICEF-supported pilot programme to help four- to six-year-olds enter primary school.
The programme, ‘Getting Ready for School: A Child to Child Approach,’ has proven successful, cost-effective and popular.
“One of the main reasons that the programme has such acceptance is that the fifth and sixth grade students are teaching their cousins, friends and neighbours,” says Ba-ati Akor Primary School teacher Tigist Araya.
The programme has been running for three years. When it started, fewer than 4 per cent of children in the region went to pre-school. That number has since risen slightly.
“There are a lot of kids, mainly in rural areas, that don’t have any type of pre-school education. This programme is very useful because it’s the sole option for most of these children,” says UNICEF Education Specialist Maekelech Gidey.
‘They are making progress’
Guided closely by her own teachers, Shefena makes sure the classes are fun.
“In the beginning my students were very shy, but now they have built confidence and knowledge. They are making progress,” she says.
Children in the ‘Child to Child’ programme learn basics such as how to hold a pencil and how to sit at a desk, all of which shows them what to expect when they go to school. As a consequence, dropout rates have fallen.
“When we compare the students that were in the Child to Child programme with the ones that weren’t, we see that they reach a higher grade, they show better results, better understanding and are more active,” says Tigist Araya.
Breaking the cycle of exclusion
Shefena’s commitment has made a difference in her own life, as well. Seeing how committed the girl is to her own studies and those of her pupils, her mother has cut back on the number of household chores she expects of her daughter.
“Unknowingly, we used to tell her to do a lot of work. We even made her fetch water,” says Mulu Berhane Atsebeha. “Since she started teaching, I don’t send her to fetch water.”
Ethiopia is one of several countries that have implemented the Child to Child programme. Its success means that the initiative will now be expanded to other countries and regions, giving hundreds of thousands more disadvantaged children an opportunity to break the cycle of exclusion from education and reach their full potential.