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In Benin, new monitoring tool engages illiterate parents in their children's education

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Vivian Siu

SINENDE, Benin, 14 April 2011 - Bana Lafia, 12, can do something her parents cannot - read.

Illiteracy is a serious problem in Benin, with nearly two-thirds of the adult population unable to read or write. Up until now, Bana’s parents have not been able to play a significant role in her education. However, a new monitoring sheet created by UNICEF in cooperation with Benin’s Ministry of Education is empowering parents like Bana’s to be active participants in her schooling.

UNICEF corresondent Vivian Siu reports on two education initatives in Benin that help illiterate parents play an active role in their children's schooling and to help the most vulnerable girls in the country stay in school. Watch in RealPlayer


“We now understand what’s happening with Bana at school because the form helps us to understand whether she’s done well or not,” said Bio Gounou Lafia, Bana’s father. “This helps us to follow up with her progress.”

Engaging illiterate parents
In the rural town of Sinende, parents have been trained with visual cards which utilize color to rate performance. For example, red means the student is performing below average, yellow indicates average and green means the child is doing well. Other indicators such as attendance and behavior are also noted on these sheets in order to provide a complete picture of their child’s progress. Students bring the cards home every month to update their parents on their academic status.

© UNICEF/Benin 2010
12-year-old Bana Lafia brings home her monitoring card sheet to keep her parents abreast of her progress at Diadia Primary School in Sinende, Benin.

“Before this UNICEF-supported program, Benin’s education system was in a poor state,” said Bertin Danvide, Chief of UNICEF Parakou, Benin Office. “Low access to schooling for children and other issues contributed to the system’s dire state. First, the enrollment rate of children into schools was very low. Second, the rate of children completing primary school was also low. And thirdly, there was a large gender gap - many more boys than girls were being sent to school.”

The monitoring sheet guides academic progress at three levels: from the teacher to the parents to the student. The chart helps teachers to see how effective their teaching is, while parents are kept abreast of their child’s academic development. “The last level is the students themselves,” said Orou Boko Gounou, Director of Diadia Primary School in Sinende. “The form helps them understand if they’re doing well or not and makes them conscious of their performance.”

This  innovative and cost-effective initiative, created by UNICEF in cooperation with Benin’s Ministry of Education, has incentivized Bana to perform to the best of her ability and is giving her a chance to move on to secondary school.
“I would be upset if I couldn’t go to school because I now know that not going to school, I won’t be able to achieve my goals,” said Bana Lafia, 12.

Bridging the gap

Today, 1.2 billion people in the world are adolescents, nearly 90 percent of whom live in the developing world and face the most difficult challenges of our time; from the most basic needs of having enough food to eat and clean drinking water, to obtaining a quality education. In these precarious times, it is even that much harder for girls. Without an education, many girls are left with few choices. In Benin, nearly half of the country’s children aged five to 14 have been subjected to child labor and more than one-third of young women are married before they turn 18.

©UNICEF/Benin 2010
Monitoring sheet of 12-year-old Bana Lafia's academic progress in sixth grade at Diadia Primary School in Sinende, Benin. The success of this tool has been adopted by the Government of Benin to use in schools nationwide.

For many years, there was a great gender gap between the number of girls and boys who attended school. However, with the implementation of the monitoring sheet and a new a girl-to-girl mentoring program initiated by UNICEF, the gender disparity in educating all Beninese children has been significantly narrowed.

“We know that the final 10 percent will be hard to close so the government, with partners, is now focusing on the schooling of all children, said Gervais Havyarimana, former UNICEF Benin Chief of Education. “The major focus is still on girls but also on all vulnerable children.”
UNICEF provides support

Through programs like these, extraordinary advances have been achieved so that girls and vulnerable children have a better chance of finishing elementary school. Indicators now show Benin could achieve universal primary education, Millennium Development Goal 2, by 2015.  The monitoring sheet tool has been so successful that the initiative has been adopted nationwide.

UNICEF remains committed to adolescents, especially during this tenuous time - to guide them along a path to self-sufficiency and support their vision for the future of their communities.


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