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Angola: Postwar reconstruction helps close gender gap in education

©UNICEF Angola/2005 JL Mendonca
Branca stands in front of her house before departing for school.

MATETE, Angola, 15 June 2005 - Awakened by the sunrise, 15-year-old Branca rushes to the nearest water pump, almost a kilometre away from her family’s mud hut. Before the start of her school day, she must carry a twenty-litre water bucket back home and help her mother and sister prepare breakfast.

“I know I am lucky,” she says, glancing at her sister Suzana, 18, who never had the opportunity to finish primary school. “Sometimes I also feel bad because she has to go work in the fields with our mother and I get to go to the classes and learn so many things.”

Branca is in the fourth grade at the primary school in Matete, in the northwest Angolan province of Malange. She is about five years behind the normal education cycle, but that is no novelty in this war-torn nation.

Matete is vivid evidence of the unprecedented destruction of public infrastructure that occurred during three decades of civil conflict here. Windows, doors, bathrooms, water systems and even desks and chairs are virtually non-existent in the village schools.

“Most of the inhabitants of the village had to flee at the peak of the hostilities and seek refuge in neighbouring countries or in other provinces,” explains schoolteacher Isabel Francisco. “The majority of children who were displaced, let alone the girls, simply didn’t get the chance to attend school.”

Partnerships accelerate progress

Through the Schools for Africa Initiative, UNICEF is supporting the Angolan government’s efforts to rehabilitate and construct schools across the country. Malange is one of the first provinces to benefit.

© UNICEF Angola/2005 JL Mendonca
A group of children in one of the Matete primary school classes surprised by the visit.

In partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the German National Committee for UNICEF, it is expected that a total of 1,500 schools will be reached by 2008.

The reconstruction efforts are complemented by awareness-raising projects focusing on girls’ enrolment and success in school. Since the end of the conflict in 2002, UNICEF has supported the training of over 20,000 teachers as part of a major Back To School campaign. Using a meticulously designed curriculum, each of these teachers has been trained in methods for promoting girls’ education in the community and addressing gender sensitivities in the classroom.

“Teachers are among the most qualified and respected persons in a community. They have the capacity to influence the children in the classroom with…gender-sensitive behaviours and reach the families with key messages that will eventually encourage them to also educate the girls,” explains Jose Luis Encinas of the teacher-training programme.

Both Branca and her teacher have benefited from the approach. After going through UNICEF-supported training, Isabel Francisco paid Branca’s parents a visit and managed to convince them that it wasn’t too late for her to sign up for primary school.

Persistent obstacles

“It’s a slow and arduous process,” admits Ms. Francisco, who participates in efforts to eliminate gender disparities in Matete by mobilizing families, religious leaders and members of the traditional community. “Today you may succeed bringing a new girl in the classroom but tomorrow it is very likely that you will see her back in the field or in the makeshift roadside markets, completely demoralised by the school conditions and ashamed of her age and intellectual delay.”

Branca and another girl around the same age share their classroom with twelve boys. In Matete’s five schools, 437 boys are enrolled while girls number only 177 .

©UNICEF Angola/2005 JL Mendonca
School in Matete, Malange.

“Sadly, the reality is even worse than what enrolment statistics may indicate,” says Jose Luis Encinas. “Most of the girls that attend primary school miss classes systematically, twice a week, coinciding with market days. Too often, the girls start primary school in their teens when pregnancies and marriages are very likely to happen and drastically interrupt their school life.”

Inadequate facilities contribute to families’ reluctance to educate their daughters. “Water and sanitation are for instance absolutely crucial for girls to feel at ease in school, especially at a certain age when they need adequate sanitation and some privacy,” says Peter de Vries, UNICEF Head of Education in Angola.

When Branca is asked about the state of her classroom, she simply looks down at the floor.

As school director Antonio Monteiro puts it, “We have relatively well-qualified teachers and we receive educational materials from UNICEF, but have a look at our premises…it is heartbreaking.”

“The response to the recovery of the Angolan education system and the positive and durable inclusion of girls in it needs to be multilayered,” explains Peter de Vries. “We have laid the first stepping stones with thousands of teachers well aware and convinced of the importance to educate girls. Now we need to make the jump and provide them with more and better facilities to realise the only thing that will ensure a long lasting peace in the country: quality education for all, both girls and boys.”


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