In Niger, rural preschools create a supportive environment for child survival and development
By Joëlle Onimus-Pfortner
At the preschool, Roumana is being taught important lifeskills she will use at every stage of her life, such as conflict resolution and hygiene.
In Niger, where water-borne diseases such as diarrhea are the third major cause of child deaths and where one in five children dies before reaching their fifth birthday, the early adoption of life-saving practices such as hand-washing is instrumental. Children in early learning centers also have greater access to existing basic services such as birth registration, vaccination campaigns, and medical consultations.
“Early childhood care and education 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”.
In Roumana’s preschool, out of 165 pupils, 90 are girls, a rare sight in Niger, where girls face a substantial gender gap and where only 11.6 % women are literate. Preschools have proven a strong strategy for promoting girls’ education; girls make up 50% of preschool enrollments, compared to 41.5% 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 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.
The rapid expansion of preschool services over the next years will be ensured through a community-based strategy in which communities guarantee the establishment and daily management of centres. They may be run by women’s associations, sectarian organizations or other community-based associations.
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.
Early childhood education curriculum and training supplies provided by UNICEF, such as used in Roumana’s school, stress the integration of children’s rights and provide tools for educators and caretakers to integrate best practices in nutrition, water, health, sanitation and hygiene, learning to live together with 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, 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”.
Gaëlle Bausson contributed to this report.