|© UNICEF Niger/2008/ Onimus-Pförtner|
|A new partnership between UNICEF and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency will provide thousands of children in Niger with quality early education.|
By Joëlle Onimus-Pfortner
NIAMEY, Niger, 27 May 2008 – The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UNICEF held a signing ceremony today in honour of their new partnership, which aims to create at least 100 rural integrated community preschools in Niger over the next two years.
“Early childhood care and education is essential to give each child the best start in life,” said UNICEF Representative in Niger Akhil Iyer.
In Niger, where water-bourne diseases such as diarrhoea are a major cause of child deaths, and where many children die before reaching their fifth birthday, early instruction on life-saving practices such as hand-washing can be instrumental to survival.
Besides teaching such practices, the new preschool centres provide greater access to existing basic services such as birth registration, vaccination campaigns and medical consultations.
New educational opportunities
Roumana, 5, is one of 165 pupils in a rural preschool that receives support from UNICEF. Of those pupils, 90 are girls. This is rare in Niger, where girls are working against a substantial gender gap in education and only 11.6 per cent of women are literate.
Preschools have proven to be a strong factor in promoting girls’ education. Girls make up 50 per cent of preschool enrollments, compared to 41.5 per cent of primary enrollments.
Rural preschools began to appear only five years ago in Niger with the support of partners such as UNICEF. By 2007, the number of children enrolled in rural areas had doubled.
The rapid expansion of preschool services over the next few years will be ensured through a community-based strategy in which the communities themselves participate in the establishment and daily management of the centres. These services will be run by women’s associations, sectarian organizations or other community groups.
Through their partnership, JICA and UNICEF will support and train communities in the management and operation of these centres.
Social skills in the classroom
Early childhood education curriculum and training supplies, provided by UNICEF, stress the integration of children’s rights and provide tools for educators and caretakers to integrate best practices in nutrition, water, health, sanitation, hygiene and equal rights for people with disabilities.
In Niger’s model, parents get the chance to learn alongside their children through parenting education programs and regular participation in preschool management and activities. Parents notice the difference preschools are making.
“The children attending preschool are more polite and respectful, know how to peacefully resolve their conflicts, are more hygienic, are ready for school and become forces for change in their own homes,” said one mother.
Gaëlle Bausson contributed to this story.