|© UNICEF video|
|Children play and sing at a UNICEF-supported pre-school in Bondoukou, Côte d'Ivoire.|
By Vincent De Fait
ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 26 March 2010 – In a rural corner of north-eastern Côte d’Ivoire, three new classrooms have revolutionized education for local children.
Not so long ago, classes took place in a hut made of dry banana leaves, which needed frequent repairs every year due to wind and rain. “We now have better working conditions,” teacher Kra Kofi said with a smile. In Tchafritedouo village where he works, 100 km from the capital of Bondoukou Department, each young learner has a chair, a desk, a slate, a pen and a notebook.
Mr. Kofi had not planned to be a teacher. He couldn’t find a job after graduating from university in Abidjan with a management degree in 2000. So he returned to his village, where Christophe Gnangbo, a teacher and president of the local non-governmental organization Soleil Levant, spotted him.
Back then, Mr. Gnangbo recalled, “there weren’t enough seats for the children in the schools, and the teachers had fled to more secure areas. The children no longer had access to an education. I proposed that we try an experiment: that local village people would build schoolrooms, and I would take care of finding the teachers.”
Raising funds for schools
Mr. Kofi began teaching without any books – just a chalkboard. Village parents organized a fund to pay him about $20 per month. It wasn’t always easy getting the money together.
|© UNICEF video|
|An Ivoirian child writes in a notebook at a UNICEF-supported early childhood development centre in Bondoukou.|
“At the beginning, there were 80 pupils, but then some children dropped out,” said Mr. Kofi, who was promoted to school director and now works with two other volunteer teachers. UNICEF provides the school supplies through Soleil Levant and has financed the construction of three classrooms in Tchafritedouo.
“A number of children who had dropped out of school have returned,” Mr. Kofi said, noting that some have even successfully passed their high school entrance examination – a first for the village.
“I did not have the chance to go to school,” noted the head of the community school management committee, Guillaume Da. “In town, I have to ask people what is written on signboards, because I cannot read and write. It hurts … and I don’t want that for my son,” he added.
A surge in learning
“A school changes everything in a village,” said Regional Director of National Education Charles Kambire, speaking in his Bondoukou town office. “Before, when a letter arrived, people had to walk for several miles to find someone who would be able to read it out to them.”
Moreover, said Mr, Kambire, school teaches children practical and useful behaviour, such as regular handwashing to maintain hygiene.
Far removed from its humble beginnings, Soleil Levant now provides educational support for more than 6,000 children in 84 villages. But the UNICEF-supported NGO still faces many challenges, starting with the recruitment of teachers, who are trained and paid by the government.
There are still not enough teachers in northern Côte d’Ivoire, for example, and volunteer teachers need training to be integrated into the school teams.
“Today, it is becoming less of a problem for parents to send their children to school,” said Mr. Kambire, “but there aren’t enough schools.”
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