By Kelley Lynch and Heidi Good
BENENA, Mali, 18 August 2011 - At a public meeting in the village of Benena, in Mali’s Segou Region, a gathering of women collectively shot their hands up in the air when asked why girls’ education in their community had been neglected in the past. Florence Koné, wearing a dress made of colorful fabric to commemorate International Women’s Day, stood up with a rush of enthusiasm. “You want to know why previously we didn’t educate our girls?” she exclaimed. “I’ll tell you. We were afraid they might get in trouble - maybe they would get pregnant, maybe they would leave school.”
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on the benefits of child-friendly schools for girls in Mali. Watch in RealPlayer|
As soon as she sat down, Tangara Hawa Dembelé posited an alternative answer to the question. “It’s because they were useful at home,” she said. “Having them there allowed a mother to have a little rest.”
A greater understanding
When UNICEF and its partners started working in the village of Benena, the situation there was much the same as in other communities throughout Mali. School enrolment rates were low, particularly for girls, and repetition and drop-out rates were high.
|© UNICEF 2011/Mali|
|Kadia, 14, washes her hands after using the latrine in Benena, Mali. Child friendly/girl-friendly schools build separate latrine blocks for girls and boys. This is particularly important to retaining adolescent girls in school. The absence of latrines where they can have privacy can cause girls to drop out, or to miss school during menstruation.|
Today, things have changed. With the support of UNICEF and local partners, like World Education and PROMAVI local communities have a greater understanding of the value of girls’ education.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education at national, regional and local levels, and teacher’s academies in implementing a ‘child-friendly/girl-friendly’ approach to providing basic education to the most disadvantaged.
‘Child-friendly/girl-friendly’ schools are schools that children want to attend. They are endowed with adequate resources to provide basic primary education and employ competent teachers who use teaching methods that provide children - girls in particular - with a safe, nurturing and gender-sensitive learning environment.
These schools also feature improved water and sanitation, particularly, separate latrine blocks for girls and boys – an accommodation that has been shown to be helpful in promoting the attendance of adolescent girls.
Involving the entire community, the schools provide education and training not only to teachers, but also to students, parents and other community members through participation in education committees, mothers’ associations and functional literacy classes for adults.
|© UNICEF 2011/Mali|
|Kadia Diara, 14, is a student at Benena First Cycle Primary School in Mali. She is part of a generation of girls that is now going to school as a result of UNICEF’s child-friendly/girl-friendly approach to education.|
Attendance rates high
Girls in this community, like sixth grade student Kadia Diarra, 14, are reaping the rewards of this change in knowledge and attitude. In Benena Primary School, and in other ‘child-friendly/girl-friendly’ schools in the region, attendance rates have jumped, student performance has improved, there are fewer repeats and drop outs, and in some schools, like Benena, the number of girls enrolled is actually higher than the number of boys.
Kadia’s father, Worowe Diarra, never went to school, but clearly sees the benefit in sending his daughters. “Schooling gives children the opportunity to open their minds,” he said. “It is like lifting your family out of darkness because the children will learn many things that will be useful and that can be applied to the family.”
Studies bear this out. They also show that educated girls are more likely to educate their own children.
“Now everyone knows that if a girl goes to school she can get a job and help her family,” Kadia said hopefully. “If you learn, you can be a chief and well known, even if you are a woman.”