By Vivian Siu
SINENDE, Benin, 26 November 2010 – Despite Benin’s worst flooding in recent history, which inundated two-thirds of the West African country this past fall, UNICEF-supported education initiatives here continue to thrive.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Vivian Siu reports on community-based education initiatives in the aftermath of recent massive flooding in Benin. Watch in RealPlayer|
Access to education is a challenge in Benin, one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly half the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.
In 1994, UNICEF and the Government of Benin created a community-based pre-school initiative to provide children with a strong foundation for entering primary school. The programme started in six schools; today, there are more than 200 pre-school initiatives targeting remote areas.
Wahi, 4, attends one such pre-school in Sinende, a town in central Benin. His father, Gnansi Orou Yo, a farmer, supports the opportunity for his son to get an early education. For him, going to school wasn’t an option. “I’ve never set foot in a school,” he says.
A pre-school education allows Wahi and other children to express themselves freely, developing their identities and skills in a nurturing environment.
|Wahi, 4, with his family. His father, Gnansi Orou Yo, supports the opportunity for his son to get an early education. For him, going to school wasn’t an option.|
“Before the commencement of this UNICEF-supported programme, the education system in Benin was in a poor state,” says Bertin Danvide, Chief of UNICEF’s office in Parakou, citing low enrolment, high drop-out rates and fewer girls than boys being sent to school. All of these indicators have since improved, and Benin may well be on track to achieve UN Millennium Development Goal 2, which calls for universal access to primary school for boys and girls by the MDGs’ target date of 2015.
Additional help for parents
It’s not just Wahi who gains through the pre-school programme. His mother, Mamatou Orou Yo, also benefits, as the initiative provides parents with income-generating activities such as making shea butter and other food items.
Ms. Orou Yo says she feels empowered by the programme “because the profits I get from it help me do some household expenses, give some allowance to my children and help me with financial organization.”
In addition to helping mothers, UNICEF is building latrines, providing more teacher training and supplying educational equipment and resources for students and teachers in Benin.
|A pre-school education allows Wahi and other children to express themselves freely, developing their identities and skills in a nurturing environment.|
“With this community based pre-school, even the older children, who are normally responsible for the day care of children when their mothers are busy, are freed from their household responsibilities and can continue their own education,” says Mr. Danvide.
Reducing drop-out rates
These are sizeable achievements, but more work still needs to be done to reach children in remote areas and make sure they not only enroll in school, but stay there.
Children comprise about half of Benin’s population. One-third of them are under five years of age. Providing a pre-school education is vital for them to develop their full potential. Recent statistics reveal that more than 45 per cent of five to 14-year-olds are working and may not be attending school. And the gender gap, though it has narrowed, remains.
“Now, the gap between the schooling of boys and girls is under 10 per cent, which is significant progress,” says UNICEF Benin’s Chief of Education, Gervais Havyarimana. “The government, with partners, is now focusing on the schooling of all children…. The major focus is still on girls, but also on all vulnerable children.”
|The community-based pre-school initiative also benefits parents, providing income-generating activities such as making shea butter and other items.|
While access to schooling has improved, notes Mr. Havyarimana, “there is still a problem of retention of children in school and primary school achievement.”
Preparation for the future
The Orou Yo family have certainly had their lives transformed by the community-based pre-school programme. “It is very positive for me. It’s helped me find a place to keep my children, do my housework [and] go to the farm,” says Ms. Orou Yo. “More importantly, it’s helping prepare my children for primary school.”
Adds her husband: “Since we didn’t have a chance to go to school ourselves, we think it’s important to send our kids to school.”
Already, Wahi’s parents have a bigger goal in mind – for him to be the first member of their family to graduate from university.
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