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Africa at large: Girl-child schooling is still a problem

Pan African News Agency, by Abwao Oluoch

When African education ministers convened in Nairobi this week to tackle the challenges facing the girls in schools, it dawned on many that despite an overall gloom facing girls, countries are pursuing various innovative return-to-school formulas.

For a start, the ministers from Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya were stunned by the revelation that some schools have no toilets for girls despite being told that satellite schools have been introduced as a new model to beat the cultural setbacks afflicting many countries.

A UNICEF-introduced model in eight African states to encourage children from war-ravaged countries to return to school excited the six African ministers who attended the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)-organised meeting.

The satellite schooling plan has gained popularity in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea Conakry, DR Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Liberia.

It involves supplementary public awareness campaigns combining the search for national girl-child education role-models, special classes for war-victims and the advocacy for free schooling as well as what the initiators call "School-In-The-Box" which includes an assortment of learning facilities combined in one place.

"I was feeling very sick in my stomach. That's why I did not come to school; I miss being in school, I don't want to get sick again," a 10-year old girl is quoted as having told UNICEF social workers in Ivory Coast where the initiative is also under implementation.

The satellite schools are designed for the lower classes, 1, 2 and 3 and are situated in remote and poverty-hit places with no primary schools, according UNICEF Aid workers in West and Central Africa.

They are located on an average of four kilometres from any properly functioning school and consist of at least 50 percent girl population.

These were the new initiatives that brought the African ministers together, to share experiences and seek solutions under a catch phrase, Consultation on scaling up good practices in girls education in sub-Saharan Africa.

UN Agencies, representatives of the World Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, British Department for International Development, some 27 senior African education ministry officials and bilateral donor countries supporting education in Africa, like Netherlands, Canada, Ireland and Britain attended the meeting.

Kenyan Education Minister, Prof. George Saitoti kicked off the debate on problems facing the African girl child when he accused male and female teachers of applying what he termed "gender discriminatory practices in the classroom or during interactions with student".

"There is further evidence that a significant number of schools are without separate toilets for boys and girls. This says a lot about the level of gender insensitivity in the education systems," he noted.

"Education policies and country laws do not provide sufficient sanctions against gender factors that impact negatively on the retention and performance of the girl child," Saitoti observed.

According to Saitoti, where there are no toilets for girls or when poverty pushes most of them out of school, the overall academic performance for girls still faces administrative woes in school, among them the lack of sanitary towels for mature girls.

"The situation is made worse by the fact that teachers are not equipped to handle other maturation difficulties which significantly hamper the girl child performance," Saitoti lamented.

The African girl child, whose problems, according to FAWE Executive Director Prof. Penina Mlama, were only recognised in 1992 as a major threat to education for all, still faces an array of cultural setbacks coupled with challenges of growth, maturity and body transformation.

"We have worked with villagers, school managers in an effort to arrive at a support action in addressing the gender constraints to education. In the process, we realised how complex the challenges to education are due to the multiple factors at play," Mlama affirmed at the meeting that ended here Saturday.

The ministers met to review girl-child education policies and putting emphasis on the criteria for developing an all-inclusive strategy to tackle future shortfalls in existing addressing differences in educating girls and boys.

 

 

 


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