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Tackling the causes of gender inequalities in Angolan schools

©UNICEF Angola/2005/Westermann
A girl outside her newly renovated school in Malange Province, Angola. The renovation was financed by the Schools for Africa Initiative.

To win Angola’s new war against poverty and overcome a devastated education system, it is crucial to know where to start the fight. UNICEF is supporting a new study to identify the causes that keep boys and girls out of school. 

LUANDA, Angola, 6 June 2006 – In the face of an education system left in shambles by 27 years of war, Angola’s goal of reaching a primary school completion rate of 75 per cent by 2008 seems ambitious. But Angola is getting ready to confront any obstacles head on.

In the absence of reliable data (there has been almost no data collection during the war) to inform required interventions, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF have commissioned a new study from Agostinho Neto University in Luanda.

The study, which is supported by Exxon Mobil, will be completed by end-2006 and will assess gender equality in primary education and document the reasons that keep young Angolans out of school.

Low school enrolment

According to the scarce data already available, the chances for getting a good education in Angola are slim, especially for girls. Only 47 per cent of girls are enrolled in primary school nationwide, compared to 53 per cent of boys.

In rural areas such as Malange province, less than 37 per cent of girls are attending first to fourth grade. In Uige province, only 33 per cent of girls reach fourth grade and 36 per cent drop-out.

At a recent seminar organized by UNICEF to define the terms of reference of the new study, students at Luanda’s teachers training institute presented their take on gender equality in primary schools.

‘Boys study, girls cook’

“Maybe the main problem is people’s mentality,” says Helena Dias, 20, who is in her second year of the five-year training programme, “many parents think that boys should study and girls cook.”


© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
Helena Dias, center, and Antonia de Almeida, right, students at Luanda's teachers training institute, discuss gender issues with a peer at a recent girls' education seminar in Luanda.

Helene thinks that convincing parents of the importance of educating girls is the most important task ahead. Her peer Antonia de Almeida, 21, lists the high costs of living, long distances and expensive transport to school as the main reasons that keep girls out of school. “Some of my neighbours can’t afford to send all their children to school, they don’t even have enough to eat,” she says.

In some provinces, it is boys who are clearly disadvantaged. In Kuando Kubango, for example, 34.7 per cent of boys drop out of school, compared to 21.3 per cent of girls. In 2004, of 43,887 boys who enrolled in primary school, 15,268 dropped out before the end of the school year.

Probably not by coincidence, in areas with high drop out rates for boys, the economy depends largely on cattle farming and fishery, traditional work areas for boys.

The findings of the new study will help speed up Ministry of Education, UNICEF and other partner interventions to get more girls and boys into school, and to keep them there.

Worldwide, the rate of progress towards gender equality will have to be accelerated significantly if the Millennium Goal of education for all by 2015 is to be achieved, and attention will have to be focused on retention and quality, not only on access.

Schools for Africa

But there are grounds for cautious optimism, even in Angola where the task ahead may seem daunting. Primary school enrollment has increased since the country’s massive back-to-school campaign in early 2003, which was backed by UNICEF, shortly after the war ended, and access rates are similar for boys and girls (53 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively, according to 2004 government figures).

Destroyed infrastructures are being rebuilt. For example, thanks to the Schools for Africa Initiative, a partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Hamburg Society and UNICEF, 1,500 schools are expected to be built or rehabilitated by 2008. Gender-sensitive curricula have been designed and teachers are being trained to promote girls’ education in the communities.

“Education is a basic right for every girl and boy,” says Cristina Brugiolo, Education Officer in UNICEF Angola, “and many studies show that girls who complete primary education can make a difference in their families and communities when they become adults.”

“One example that is often cited,” she adds, “is that women with some formal education adopt improved sanitation practices. Maybe with better sanitation practices, some mothers could have protected their children from the cholera outbreak that is spreading through Angola at the moment and has affected almost 40,000 people so far, an estimated 14,000 of them children under five.”


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