UNICEF’s Head of Education, Cream Wright, talks about the ‘child-friendly school’ approach to promoting quality education.
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ZAMBÉZIA, Mozambique, 18 August 2006 – Fourteen-year-old Esperança Soul holds her head high as she sings a welcome song in the local language to a group of visitors. Her melodic voice carries above that of her fellow students who are gathered in an arid playground surrounded by classrooms in various stages of construction.
Barefoot, Esperança looks pleased with her school, which she, other students, parents and members of her community are helping to build. The completed classrooms are merely small brick rooms with palm reed roofs and no doors, but they will at least give the students more space.
Beyond the physical construction of classrooms, more development is going on at the Namurumo Primary School, situated in the heart of Maganja da Costa, one of the poorest districts in the central province of Zambézia, Mozambique.
“We can’t remove all the problems in the education system, not in years, but we can assist with some fundamental changes that can improve the quality of education,” said UNICEF Project Officer Stella Kaabwe.
Ms. Kaabwe explained how UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education in creating ‘child-friendly schools’, which call on all sectors – notably education, health, water and sanitation, social welfare and communication – to improve student retention and performance even in the poorest communities.
One of the major priorities, said the Director of the Namurumo Primary School, Fazilom Ofumawe, is to retain girls and the increasing number of students who have been orphaned – mostly due to HIV/AIDS. At present, the gender disparity at the school is glaring: In first grade there are 88 girls and 87 boys, but the fifth-grade class has only 28 girls and 42 boys.
Hoping to rectify the situation, the school is relying heavily on its strong School Council, which plays an important role in improving the quality of education and provides strong links with the community.
Esperança is a proud member of the School Council. “Most of the pupils I visit are girls, and most of those are orphans,” she said. “They find it difficult to come to school.”
It is easy for Esperança to empathize. As the eldest child in her single-parent household, she has heavy responsibilities at home. Although her day is long, she usually eats only one meal after school. “I’m often hungry during class,” she conceded.
Little by little, though, her school is improving, and Esperança has no intention of dropping out. When asked about her future, she said, “I want to stay in school. Maybe in the future I’ll be a teacher or a farmer, who knows?”