Basic education and gender equality

Learning Plus

© UNICEF/HQ06-0324/Pirozzi
Girls attend class at a ‘child-friendly’ girls’ school on the outskirts of Quetta, capital of the southern province of Balochistan

What if school were more than a center for learning? What if the institutions responsible for educating our children also addressed some of society’s most profound and urgent needs?

Recognizing the challenges facing so many of the world’s children and the lack of resources for them, UNICEF created Learning Plus, an initiative of our Basic Education and Gender Equality program. Learning Plus promotes child-friendly schools (CFS) that go far beyond their traditional mandate for education: They are one-stop centres for a broad range of essential services.

First, Learning Plus schools feed children, whether through lunches or take-home meals. In societies suffering from drought, food scarcity and poverty, these programmes can be the difference between aching hunger and nutrition. Similarly, Learning Plus school health programmes, which provide immunizations, micronutrients and deworming treatments, can be the difference between illness and health in a society with scarce resources.

And Learning Plus schools go even further than food and health care. They offer hygiene and health education programmes that teach better practices for preventing disease. They also provide care and support for orphans and other vulnerable children—an especially urgent need in countries devastated by armed conflict, AIDS and crushing poverty.

The Learning Plus approach is holistic and intersectoral; it assumes that children learn better when they are not hungry, thirsty, sick or scared. At the same time, education itself contributes to progress in nutrition, disease prevention, sanitation, hygiene and child protection. By leveraging the power of schools to educate and act as communal hubs, Learning Plus aims to create a dynamic, mutually reinforcing loop across sectors and within communities. Each element of the relationship contributes to the success of the others—and, most importantly, to children’s health and well-being.

The holistic, intersectoral nature of the approach means that collaboration and cooperation are indispensable. Identifying and delivering essential services such as school feeding and teaching about AIDS prevention, water, sanitation and hygiene and protective environments—in addition to the school’s regular educational curriculum—creates an enormous need for global, regional and local partnerships. These partnerships can also assist in lobbying stakeholders and policymakers for support, facilitating dialogue on service delivery, and contributing to advocacy efforts.

As the education sector faces increasing demands and multiple threats—including poverty, AIDS, drought, food insecurity and political instability—schools are challenged in providing the care and support required by the most vulnerable children, including orphans, girls and the disabled. Governments look to the Learning Plus approach to answer those challenges.

In September 2005, 13 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) signed a communiqué committing themselves to strengthening their educational systems through the Learning Plus approach.

By leveraging the inherent power of education and capitalizing on the promise of partnerships, we can help bolster schools’ power to respond to the ever-growing challenges facing society’s most vulnerable children—and strengthen the foundation for tomorrow.



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