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Sierra Leone: Newsline

“I am so proud I made it!”

Hawa with three of her friends who scored the

by: Issa Davies, Communication Officer, UNICEF Sierra Leone

Kabala, Sierra Leone - 23rd October 2009 – Hawa Marrah, 12, is a pupil of the Islamic Primary School in Kabala, an agrarian community in northern Sierra Leone. Her results from the National Primary School Examination (NPSE) have just been published and she is one of five girls who had the best results in the district.  

Hawa scored an aggregate of 315 out of 500 (63%), a result that is considered very impressive considering the low pass rates of girls in this part of the country.  In addition to that, the rates at which girls, especially those living in rural communities, complete their primary and secondary education are very low. 

In Sierra Leone, an estimated 64 per cent of primary aged children are currently enrolled in primary schools. Though attendance rates for boys and girls are almost equal at the primary education level, there is a high dropout rate for girls and their enrolment in secondary education is low with net a secondary school attendance rate at only 19 per cent.

The greatest barriers to the education and development of girls are early pregnancies, child marriages, poverty and sexual abuse. Hawa is one of the few girls, who despite these barriers has been able to make it this far.


Hawa, now in secondary school, attentive in class

Though the government has a free tuition policy, the costs (an estimated Le80,000 equivalent to US$20) associated with school materials and other charges, have led many girls, most of whom come from poor families, to look for extra income in order to keep them in school. Some are even engaged in prostitution to supplement their school charges. Although the cost of US$20 may seem like a small amount, it is unaffordable for many families, 70% of Sierra Leoneans live on less than a dollar a day.  Its removal can have a huge impact on the education of children, in terms of access and retention, especially for girls.

“Even though I studied with candles and kerosene lamps every night because there is no electricity supply in my community, I feel so privileged to have taken the exams and passed with high grades like children in other areas of the country who have better facilities. I am so proud I made it!” she exclaimed.

“Some of my friends have dropped out of school due to early pregnancies and marriages” Hawa lamented. “In fact, a good number of them have fallen victims to cultural and traditional prejudices which continue to keep them at home instead of in school”.
Poverty, exploitation and inadequate teaching and learning materials are other major barriers that keep girls out of school. 

In order to ensure that girls stay in schools, UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Education, Youths and Sports and development partners to provide quality primary education through the construction of classrooms, provision of water and sanitation facilities, training of teachers and the provision of teaching and learning materials.  UNICEF also assists Government in developing policies to ensure access to primary education, create retention, foster completion and high performance of pupils, especially girls. Support is also provided to the establishment of child-friendly learning environments that are rights-based, gender-sensitive, healthy and safe for children to learn.

The Ministry of Education Youths and Sports in collaboration with UNICEF, non-governmental organizations, civil society and other stakeholders is championing the Girls Education Week  Campaign (October 20th – 26th) in order to illuminate the issues and challenges around educating a girl in Sierra Leone and advocate for stronger policy formulations and enforcements that will see more girls complete their education.

As part of the commemoration, girls who have excelled in their academic work are recognized and rewarded with school materials and uniforms in every district across the country.  Hawa is among the over 1,200 proud recipients of these awards across the country.

“I want to be a medical doctor in the future so that I can contribute to efforts at        reducing child and maternal mortality and make a difference for the children of this country.
“If only more of such initiatives [Girls Education Week] are promoted, I believe a good number of us [girls] will be encouraged to do more and our potentials will be realized in society” she concluded.

The goal of universal primary education by 2015 with equal opportunity for girls and boys is realistic, it is affordable, it is achievable and what’s more, it’s our children’s right. In order to meet this goal in Sierra Leone, it is crucial that there is shared responsibility by every stakeholder; parents, communities, donors, government and children themselves. The time to Act is Now.



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