Child Friendly Schools & Early Childhood Development
Regarding the MDG target, The Gambia has achieved gender parity in lower basic education in 2005, but not in basic education, through the efforts of a number of partners, including the UNICEF-assisted Child-Friendly, Girl-Friendly Schools Initiative. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in 2005 stood at 91 per cent nationwide, including the Arabic-language, Muslim Madarassa schools. Although enrolment among girls is high, retention remains a major challenge, and gender disparities persist in performance, retention and completion.
A major unintended result from the implementation of the Girl-Friendly Schools Initiative in the previous Country Programme was the slowing down of boys’ enrolment. Thus, in the context of the new Country Programme 2007-2011, UNICEF adopts the Child Friendly School Initiative approach to help ensure that boys as well as girls enroll and complete a quality primary education. Most of the interventions are at local level to encourage community participation, empowerment and ownership. This is being done by working with those individuals and groups that are closest to children – Village Support Groups, Parent Teachers Associations, Divisional Technical Advisory Committees, Village Development Committees and Mothers’ Clubs. Such groups help dispel any negative cultural perceptions about girls’ education and assist to alleviate any burdens communities face by enrolling and keeping their children, particularly girls, in school.
The Child-Friendly Schools Initiative strives to create a conducive learning environment, healthy and safe school environment for children where teachers are gender sensitive in their approaches and respect, a proper code of conduct towards students including a Sexual Harassment Policy, and malaria prevention for children. The initiative also respects the principles of inclusiveness, child-centered methods and meaningful democratic participation. In its drive to promote quality education activities to improve access to water sanitation and personal hygiene are also taken on board.
As a part of promoting early learning and stimulation and developmental readiness, the Early Child Development (ECD) project helps to ensure schools’ readiness for children and families and children’s readiness for school. Children that attend preschool, most of whom live in urban parts of the country attain developmental readiness earlier and are more likely to enroll and complete primary school than those in the rural areas.
The ECD and Child-Friendly Schools projects target the “hardto-reach”, poor communities and works with various development partners and the government through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, which provides the necessary technical capacity for planning, implementing, coordinating and monitoring the impact of the Basic Education Program. This project adopts the ‘whole school development approach’, promoting capacity building for teachers, ECD facilitators and sector staff; the provision of essential teaching and learning materials through the Essential Learning Package; Parenting Education in ECD; and support to the effective monitoring of learning achievement.
UNICEF's object to improve access to basic education and enhance service quality, through the achievement of the EFA and MDG goal, also extends to leveraging funds to improve the condition of teachers. In 2008, UNICEF assisted the Government of the Gambia mobilize US $28 million from the EFA/FTI Catalytic Fund. The funds aim to to improve conditions for teaching and learning in basic education including early childhood development. This objective is in line with the overall objectives of the Government’s Education Sector Strategy Plan and the Medium-Term Plan for 2009-2011.
By 2011, the UNICEF program aspires to support the communities of the Upper River Region and the urban towns of Talinding and Ebo Town to attain a 90 per cent enrolment in lower basic schools and increase the enrolment in ECD centres by 50 per cent.