Child-friendly schools for the most vulnerable
Buzi, Mozambique, 2010 – Standing in front of his newly-built classroom, Muchindo Alberto, a 5th grade teacher at 3 de Fevereiro primary school, speaks proudly of his child-friendly school.
The school is part of the child-friendly school initiative, a partnership between the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, introduced in the district of Buzi in 2007.
Looking around him, Alberto is quick to call attention to the visible changes that have improved the teaching and learning experience over the past three years.
"Until recently many children had to sit on the on the floor, but today we have enough school desks for all children," he says.
Similarly, the construction of five new latrines has played an important role in keeping students in school, he explains.
"The school only had three latrines in very poor condition, so the children were reluctant to use them – they often had to miss school as a result.”
Alberto may point at the most obvious improvements, but he knows well that building new facilities is only part of the equation when it comes to creating a learning environment that cares for the needs of all children, especially the most vulnerable.
In countries like Mozambique, the impact of AIDS, poverty and food insecurity has eroded the traditional support system provided by families and communities, giving rise to a rapid increase in the number of vulnerable children. There are an estimated 1,2 million orphans, with some 350,000 orphaned due to AIDS.
Responding to these challenges, the child-friendly school programme aims to improve the quality of education in primary schools through the implementation of an integrated package of school interventions, with minimum quality standards. In this context, schools have become entry points for delivering a range of essential basic services.
The quality package of school interventions includes five main focus areas – education, water, sanitation and hygiene, health, protection of vulnerable children and community participation – caring for the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of every child, with special attention to vulnerable children and girls in targeted districts in seven provinces.
"Teachers, parents and school council members work together to identify vulnerable children in the community," says Alberto, pointing to nine-year-old Delfina who is playing with her friends in the courtyard. "We try to provide a range of support, giving priority to school materials, and referring the most vulnerable to social services.”
In collaboration with local health authorities, the school also facilitates access to primary health care. Mobile health units come to the school regularly for vaccination, deworming and nutritional screening.
"Students also learn life skills such as the importance of preventing HIV and most common diseases, how to better clean their teeth and follow a good diet,” says Alberto.
Introduced in Mozambique in 2006, the child-friendly schools package, which is part of the Schools for Africa initiative, now covers all primary schools in seven districts, benefiting approximately 750 schools and over 300,000 school-age children.
Data from the Ministry of Education and Culture shows that all child-friendly districts increased the enrollment of orphaned children in the school system, especially in Chibuto and Buzi districts, where figures are almost double the national average.
Since 2006, the programme has reached over 93,000 orphaned and vulnerable children, 8,354 of whom were enrolled in school and 58,000 received direct material support.