|© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2008|
|A young girl receives a UNICEF-supplied textbook to assist with her education.|
By Umaru Fofana
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 8 September 2009 – Three children, all seemingly under 10 years of age, are camped around Freetown’s Cotton Tree – a historic site for offering prayers for peace and prosperity – begging for handouts. They do not go to school.
Situated at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world. More than half of its people live below the poverty line. And this, in turn, affects education, especially for girls.
Poverty and abuse
As poverty wreaks havoc on family incomes, parents and guardians look to their children and wards for extra money. This often leads to children dropping out of school, or prevents them from going in the first place.
Children in many parts of the country are also exposed to verbal, physical and sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The late payment of teachers’ salaries and school subsidies, as well as the prevalence of unqualified teachers, has added to the financial burden on parents and guardians. Not surprisingly, many children cite the high cost of schooling as the primary reason for dropping out.
Partnering for education
UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to change the trend of children – especially girls – dropping out of school. In the aftermath of the launch of a new ‘Out-of-School Study Report’ in August, the core problems besetting children’s schooling are expected to be addressed.
UNICEF is supporting the ministry to improve the quality and relevance of the teacher training and to accelerate the number of teachers being trained each year.
UNICEF has also helped the government and the teachers’ union to develop a code of conduct for all teachers. UNICEF annually supports a nationwide Girls’ Education Week campaign run by the education ministry to sensitize communities about the importance of education, especially for girls, and encourage more parents to send their children to school every day and complete their education.
Girls’ education programmes
Adding more girls’ scholarship programmes will have a huge impact on education, while the sensitization of religious leaders and business community on child labour will also help improve the situation.
With accelerated efforts, Millenium Development Goal 2 – achieving universal primary education – is believed to be attainable in Sierra Leone. Concrete actions will bring more children to the classrooms and let them stay there.
As Ghandi once put it, open the doors of a school for a child, and a prison door is closed before him.
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