|A teacher helps two students with their lesson at the UNICEF-supported primary school in rural Murambinda Growth Point in the eastern Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe|
Across the globe, poverty, gender disparity and illiteracy plague the world’s children. Nowhere are these scourges worse, though, than in West and Central Africa, the region with the highest percentage of out-of-school children in the world.
Recognizing the urgent need to increase basic education achievement rates in this part of the globe, UNICEF partnered with UNESCO to create the Essential Learning Package (ELP), a strategy designed to produce a quantum leap in the number of children accessing basic education, and to ensure that girls have equal access to learning. In essence, ELP helps put the basics of learning in place, precisely where they’re most urgently needed.
In designing ELP, UNICEF called on its expertise in creating spaces for education in the immediate aftermath of emergencies, when societies are most fragile. Capitalizing on the agency’s success in distributing essential educational supplies and services in a short time frame – whether in the wake of natural disasters or armed conflict – ELP was designed to establish the nuts and bolts of education in countries where too many children are deprived of their basic human right to learn. In that sense, ELP is both a foundation and a springboard for achieving national educational goals.
In addition to assessing countries’ needs for basic educational infrastructure, supplies and services, ELP helps create advocacy campaigns, monitoring and evaluation systems reaching down to community and village levels, and improved national data collection systems. Governments that adopt ELP partner with external agencies to use existing national systems and instruments, rather than creating new or parallel ones.
By mobilizing Governments and developing partnerships to improve the availability of education in quantity and quality, ELP acts as a catalyst at the national level. By strengthening communication to change parents’ outlooks and behaviour towards education, ELP affects societies at the grassroots level. And by improving families’ abilities to pay for the direct and indirect costs of school, ELP bolsters countries at the economic level.
In 2003, Burkina Faso became the first country to implement ELP. More countries have followed, including Benin, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. These countries have made significant progress; each is integrating ELP into its education sector plans as a catalyst for acceleration.
Whether in Benin or Boston, students need notebooks, pencils and textbooks. Teachers need blackboards and a curriculum. And communities need a framework that supports their children’s learning. There are, of course, ideal shopping lists: laptops, overhead projectors, air conditioning. UNICEF would love for every child to learn in the most comfortable, technologically-equipped environment available – but first, the agency is committed to providing essentials where they are urgently lacking.
It is committed to giving every child, male or female, access to learning, especially to quality education that prepares children for bright and successful futures, free from the cruel shackles of poverty.