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As Angola rebuilds, tackling the causes of gender inequalities in schools

© UNICEF Angola/2005/Westermann
A girl outside her newly renovated school in Malange province, Angola. The renovation was financed by the Schools for Africa Initiative.

By Brigitte Stark-Merklein

LUANDA, Angola, 6 June 2006 – In the face of an education system left in shambles by decades of war, Angola’s goal of reaching a primary school completion rate of 75 per cent by 2008 seems ambitious. But Angola is getting ready to confront the obstacles.

In the absence of reliable data (there was almost no data collection during the country’s 30-year civil war), the Ministry of Education and UNICEF have commissioned a new study from Agostinho Neto University here in the capital.

The study, which is supported by Exxon Mobil, is to be completed by the end of this year. It will assess gender equality in primary education and document the issues that keep young Angolans out of school.

Low school enrolment

According to the scarce data already available, the chances of getting a good education in Angola are slim, especially for girls. Only 47 per cent of girls are enrolled in primary school nationwide, compared to 53 per cent of boys.

© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
Helena Dias (centre) and Antonia de Almeida (right), students at Luanda's teacher-training institute, discuss gender issues with a peer at a recent girls' education seminar in Luanda, Angola’s capital.

In rural areas such as Malange province, less than 37 per cent of girls are attending first to fourth grade. In Uige province, only 33 per cent of girls reach fourth grade and 36 per cent drop out.

At a recent seminar organized by UNICEF to define the terms of reference of the new study, students at Luanda’s teacher-training institute presented their take on gender equality in primary schools.

‘Boys study, girls cook’

“Maybe the main problem is people’s mentality,” says Helena Dias, 20, who is in her second year of the five-year training programme. “Many parents think that boys should study and girls cook.” Ms. Dias thinks that convincing parents of the importance of educating girls is the most important task ahead.

Antonia de Almeida, 21, lists the high cost of living, long distances and expensive transport to school as the main reasons that keep girls away. “Some of my neighbours can’t afford to send all their children to school. They don’t even have enough to eat,” she says.

In some provinces, it is boys who are clearly disadvantaged. In Kuando Kubango, for example, 34.7 per cent of boys drop out of school, compared to 21.3 per cent of girls. In 2004, of 43,887 boys who enrolled in primary school, 15,268 left before the end of the school year.

It’s probably not a coincidence that in areas with high dropout rates for boys, the economy depends largely on cattle farming and fishery, traditional work areas for boys.

Schools for Africa

But there are grounds for cautious optimism, even though the challenges may seem daunting. Primary school enrolment has increased since the country’s massive, UNICEF-supported back-to-school campaign, which started shortly after the war ended in 2003.

Destroyed infrastructure is being rebuilt. Thanks to the Schools for Africa Initiative, a partnership between the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Hamburg Society and UNICEF, 1,500 schools are expected to be built or rehabilitated by 2008. Gender-sensitive curricula have been designed, and teachers are being trained to promote girls’ education.

“Education is a basic right for every girl and boy,” says UNICEF Education Officer Cristina Brugiolo, “and many studies show that girls who complete primary education can make a difference in their families and communities when they become adults.”



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