Niger: UNICEF and JICA launch partnership for community-based early childhood care and education
Opening of +100 integrated preschools for rural children
NIAMEY, 7 May 2008 – The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, are joining forces to bring essential early childhood services to rural children in Niger. In an agreement signed today, JICA and UNICEF will support the creation of at least 100 integrated community preschools over the next two years reaching out to rural children in two of the country’s regions with the lowest school enrollment rates.
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 has doubled and the numbers in community structures increased tenfold. To reach goals of the ten-year education plan in Niger, an additional 80,000 children will need to be enrolled in preschools by 2013.
“Early childhood care is essential to give each child the best start in life”, says UNICEF Representative in Niger, Akhil Iyer. “It is crucial in preparing young children for school. But in parallel, we must collectively also make every effort to ensure that schools are ready for children”
Community preschools make a substantial contribution in bringing children into the school system earlier, increasing their chances to enroll and perform well in primary school. In addition, preschools have proven a strong strategy for promoting girls’ education; girls make up 50% of preschool enrollments, compared to 41.5% of primary enrollments.
Using a community-based strategy also allows for a rapid expansion of preschool services over the next years. Through this partnership, JICA supports communities to set up democratic participatory management structures and put in place the tools and mechanisms to ensure sustainability. In the same communities, UNICEF supports teacher training, curriculum development, activities for school readiness and life skills promotion, educational toy supplies and monitoring and evaluation of child competencies and preschool standards.
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. During field visits, they say that children attending preschool are: “more polite and respectful, know how to peacefully resolve their conflicts practicing with the ‘peace mat’ in the classroom, are more hygienic, wash their hands, are ready for school, and become forces for change in their own homes”.
*All statistics from Ministry of Education of 2007 Statistical Yearbook